All of them swept away in the hurricane.
from Another Kind of Hurricane
written by Tamara Ellis Smith
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015
I’m glad to tell you that I don’t have a lot of weather-related experience. An unforgettable snow storm closed school for two weeks when I was in third or fourth grade. We built forts with the neighbor kids, forged paths through the backyards, and drank as much hot cocoa as our mothers allowed.
The last memorable tornado spun through Northeastern Ohio in 1985. It was a doozy. According to one source, the wind was clocked at 260 miles per hour. Eighty-nine people died and many, many more were injured. Its path traveled about 10 miles north of us.
My older daughter was in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1996, the year of Tropical Storm Josephine. Before Josephine made landfall on October 8, winds measured over 70 miles per hour. (A category I hurricane clocks in at 75mph.) Still a Tropical Storm, Josephine blew through the campus of Florida State University with sustained winds of 28.8 mph and gusts of 39.1. The storm dropped 7.79 inches of rain from October 2-8. https://emergency.fsu.edu/resources/hazards/tropical-storms-hurricanes/tropical-storms-hurricanes-history-fsu My daughter spent her 21st birthday hunkered in place instead of celebrating with her friends.
Does it seem like the weather is wilder than ever? Well, it is. Besides the devastating fires in the West (over 7,000 square miles burned so far, an area the size of New Jersey), we are experiencing another active hurricane season.
Storms are named each year according to where in the world’s six basins the storm originates. Each basin has an organization that comes up with names for storms. The Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific share a six-year list. The lists are alphabetical, but skip the difficult letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z. Naming began in 1953 and men’s names were finally added in 1979. Each year, gender-specific names are alternated. If a male name goes first one year, the next year a female name is chosen first. At the end of six years, the lists start over. If a hurricane is particularly severe, its name is retired. The World Meteorological Organization has retired 88 names through 2018. Because of COVID-19, they will not address the 2019 season until they meet in Spring, 2021. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames_history.shtml
(2021 update: According to the World Meteorological Organization, Laura, Eta, Iota, and Dorian will all be retired from the 2020 and 2019 Atlantic hurricane seasons.)
In 2018, Florence and Michael were retired and replaced by Francine and Milton, who will first appear (if necessary) in 2024. If more than twenty-one letters are needed to name storms, the Greek alphabet is used, adding 24 more.
The first year the Greek alphabet was used was the record-breaking year 2005. There were 27 named storms that year. Although Zeta reached peak strength January 2, it originated from a trough of low pressure on December 29th.
Hurricane Season is June 1- November 30 each year, but hurricanes can occur outside of that time frame. We are on track for another record-breaker. In 2005, the Beta storm made landfall in the Caribbean in late October. Yesterday (9/21/2020), our own Tropical Storm Beta was already causing storm-surge damage in Texas and Louisiana as it moves through the Gulf of Mexico with sustained winds of over 50 mph, a month earlier than the Beta storm of 2005. Beta made landfall at 10:00 last night.
As Mother Nature dictates, when a storm makes landfall, the winds decrease. No more water can be added to the cloud formation. Even though most of the damage is caused by flooding and storm surge, rain, winds knocking down trees, ripping off siding and roofs, and blowing debris are serious cause for concern.
Tropical Cyclone is a generic name. Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are all names for the same weather system, a large-scale, atmospheric wind-and-pressure system characterized by low pressure at its center and a circular wind motion. Storms forming in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific are known as hurricanes. A storm in the Northwest Pacific is a typhoon. Storms originating in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean are called cyclones. A tropical cyclone in Australia is called a willy willy. https://www.dictionary.com/e/typhoons-hurricanes-cyclones/ Hurricanes rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere.
Cyclones form in the tropics because they need warm water (at least 80 degrees F) and wind. As air blows across the warm ocean, water evaporates and rises. The water vapor cools as it moves higher and higher and condenses back into large water droplets. Storm clouds form. As more water evaporates and cools, the clouds get bigger and bigger. They start to spin with the earth’s rotation. If enough water gathers into storm clouds, they organize into the familiar pattern we see on weather maps.
Scientists are still studying whether warmer water will produce more frequent storms. They agree, though, that warmer oceans do produce more severe storms. As the ocean temperature rises with our warming climate, more evaporation will occur to create larger storm clouds and more severe storms.
-—stay curious! (and be prepared)