Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Flora and Fauna: As Irene Socks the Eastern U.S., Here's a Primer to Learn More About These Troublesome Storms

Palm trees bend but rarely break in a hurricane.
In a highly anticipated and publicized weather event, Hurricane Irene swooped into the New York area last night leaving by morning. By all accounts, Irene was a messy and inconsiderate guest. Leaves, branches and trees littered city and country streets. Water flooded roads, intersections, basements and beaches. The wind whipped up and took down lots of power lines leaving many of us in the dark. The only good thing: with the sales of flashlights, generators and the panic stocking of personal food pantries it just might give the economy a small boost. Maybe.

Tree down on Lighthouse Hill,
Staten Island
But what are these things that cause so much misery and inconvenience? Hurricanes are severe tropical storms with a large low pressure centers producing intense winds and heavy rainfall. They are formed in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the eastern Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and in the Gulf of Mexico gathering energy as they come in contact with warm ocean waters. Hurricanes form but do not occur in the South Atlantic Ocean because the waters are too cold. Seawater evaporation increases their power. Rotating in a counter-clockwise direction around an "eye", hurricanes have winds of at least 74 miles per hour that damage buildings and trees when they make landfall. The rain, wind and waves combine to wreak havoc in cities, towns and beach fronts in their path.

In that respect, Irene performed admirably. What follows is a primer of hurricane facts and vocabulary words.

Hurricane vocabulary:

  • Storm surge: giant walls of water with extremely dangerous heavy waves
  • Typhoon: a hurricane of the western Pacific area and the China seas.
  • Cyclone: name given to hurricanes in the Indian Ocean.
  • Hurricane Hunters: brave aviators who work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With missions that last about ten hours, the crews pass four to six times through the storm. The planes carry radar, sophisticated computers, and weather instruments that determine characteristics such as temperature, air pressure, wind speed, and wind direction inside the hurricane. The crews also release instruments that measure temperature, air pressure, and wind at different levels as the devices drop through the hurricane toward the ocean. By mission's end, NOAA can warn everyone in the hurricane's path.
  • Coastal beach erosion: the wearing away of land, the removal of beach or dune sediments by wave action, tidal currents, wave currents, or drainage.
  • Saffir-Simpson scale: used to classify hurricanes in the United States. It was invented by engineer Herbert Saffir and former National Hurricane Center director Robert Simpson.
Hurricane facts:

  • Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean runs from June 1 to November 30.
  • Taping your windows in preparation for a hurricane is a waste of time because flying debris will smash a taped window as if the tape weren't there.
  • Since 1979, Hurricanes have had alternating male and female names but before that, only female names were used. They are the only weather event that is given personal names. The first hurricane of the year is given a name beginning with the letter “A”.
  • The first hurricane with a male name was Hurricane Bob hitting near New Orleans in July 1979.From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean were identified by the phonetic alphabet (Able-Baker-Charlie-etc.).
  • Two hurricanes were named Alice in 1954. One in June and one in December.
  • Many hurricanes exist harmlessly in the sea dying there when they pass over areas of cooler water.
  • In Australia hurricanes are called willy-willies.
  • Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes. They are not as strong as regular tornadoes and last only a few minutes.
  • The fastest forward speed for a hurricane was the New England Hurricane of 1938 reported at 70 mph. The forward speed for an average hurricane is less than 20 mph.
  • The first hurricane to hit the American Colonies happened on August 25, 1635.
  • On September 8, 1900, the United States' worst weather disaster hit Galveston, Texas with more than 8,000 deaths. In a category 4 hurricane, a 15-foot storm surge flooded the island, which, at that time, was less than 9 feet above sea level. Now, the sea level of the island has been raised, and a sea wall has been built to try to protect the city.
  • In September of 1928, the Okeechobee hurricane, or San Felipe Segundo hurricane, was a deadly hurricane that struck the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Florida becoming the second recorded hurricane to reach Category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale in the Atlantic basin.
  • In 1938, a man on Long Island bought a barometer. The instrument signaled a hurricane but thinking it defective the name went back to the store to complain. When he returned, his house had been swept away from a hurricane. The barometer was correct.
  • In 1944, the US Navy's Pacific fleet was crushed by Typhoon Cobra, which sank three destroyers and damaged many ships.
  • In 1952, Hurricane Fox was a strong and deadly tropical Atlantic cyclone. Hurricane Fox was the first storm to be named in an official weather bureau advisory.
  • In 1967, a hurricane in Texas caused more than 140 twisters.
  • In 1969, Hurricane Camille wrecked a hotel where a alleged hurricane party was being held and killed 8 people. A TV movie called 'Hurricane' was created out of this story
  • In 1970, a hurricane in Pakistan killed more than 300,000 people. A hurricane name is permanently retired and another name replaces it if the storm is really devastating.
  • Bangladesh was a country that was created from a hurricane when in 1970, this region of Pakistan was struck by a cyclone with a resulting huge loss of life. The people felt their government did not do enough to help after the disaster so in 1971, they voted to be independent of Pakistan and Bangladesh was born.
Clement Wragge.
  • In 1971, Hurricane Ginger lasted for over three weeks.
  • In 1989, Hurricane Hugo completely destroyed several forests in South Carolina. 
  • In 1992, the costliest hurricane of all time occurred in Florida, It was called Hurricane Andrew.
  • In 1995, 11 hurricanes made landfall in the United States. 
  • In 1999, Hurricane Floyd was barely a category I hurricane, but it still managed to mow down 19 million trees and caused over a billion dollars in damage.
  • in 2005, Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area, became the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States.[3] At least 1,836 people died in the actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane.
  • September is the busiest month for hurricanes. August is the second busiest.
  • Palm trees grow mainly in tropical parts of the world because in strong hurricane winds, their flexible trunks rarely break.
  • The word hurricane comes from the Taino Native American word, hurricane, meaning evil spirit of the wind.
  • The first time anyone flew into a hurricane happened in 1943 in the middle of World War II.
  • A typical hurricane can dump 6 inches to a foot of rain across a region. A slow moving hurricane produces more rainfall and flood damage than faster-moving, more powerful hurricanes.
  • Most people who die in hurricanes are killed by the towering walls of sea water that comes inland.
  • The man who first gave names to hurricanes was an Australian weather forecaster named Clement Wragge in the early 1900s.
  • The planet Jupiter has a hurricane which has been going on for over 300 years. It can be seen as a red spot on the planet. This hurricane on Jupiter is bigger than our Earth. See the oval spot below.

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