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Hurricanes are a part
of the Caribbean summer

September 2017

hurricane system

No one could have missed the tragic news from the Caribbean region when huge hurricane Irma hit the area causing widespread devastation.

August and September are within the hurricane season there and it is something tourists should take into account when planning summer trips. Prices are better and if you are lucky, the weather can be fantastic, but there is that risk that a violent weather storm might occur.

But what really causes a hurricane? After all year after year there is warm air continually rising above the oceans and it doesn’t always cause these violent weather systems.

In fact what is needed is a precise mix of specific weather conditions to turn normal warm rising air into the serious violence of a hurricane.

If we can remember our school lessons, we will be aware that warm air can carry quite a bit of moisture in it and that warm air will be lighter and therefore rise above cooler air. Air over the warm oceans in hotter climates will pick up quite a bit of moisture and then  rise as cooler air filters in underneath.  This cooler air will then go through the same system, picking up moisture and being warmed by the warm water in the sea, and it will start to rise as more cold air filters in from further away.

When the sea is at the right temperature, it can cause this activity to be quite vigorous and continuous.

Then, as the warm air climbs higher, the water it is carrying will gradually condense, forming big clouds. This is the normal system of course, and the clouds that bring all the rain to our country are formed in the same way.

However, in the hotter tropical regions, these clouds can become big. As the earth turns around, this will affect these big clouds and start to rotate them high in the sky. With the process of hot air rising then cooling continually going on far below, more clouds will rise into the system, joining the spinning clouds above. The clouds and the speed of the rotation grows as the storm build, sometimes the clouds can build up to nine miles high; and eventually this can all develop into a massive weather system, rotating violently.

Interestingly because of the rotation of the earth, hurricanes rotate counter clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere.

Cyclones and typhoons are just different names for similar weather conditions in other parts of the world. While the term hurricane is used in north America and the Caribbean, in the Indian Ocean regions they are called cyclones and in south east Asia they are generally known as typhoons.

Because the weather systems are rotated by the earth’s movement and go in a vigorous circular path, right in the middle there is what is called the eye. This is an area where there are generally few clouds and the wind is much less. However, around this is the area termed as the eye wall, and this is the most dangerous part of a hurricane where the winds will be the highest and the clouds the heaviest.

As we learned tragically from the recent news, these wind speeds can reach well over 150mph.

The main season for the Atlantic and Caribbean region is from June to November but August and September are the key months here. It seems there are usually around six hurricanes a year with winds more than 74mph and three a year with winds over 111mph.

Tropical storms, with winds between 39mph and 74mph, are more common with an average of around 12 a year in the region.

A key problem is that there is no long term early warning system of the very early development of a hurricane, and even worse, the path of a hurricane can be quite unpredictable.

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