The History of a Hurricane

I've been asked a lot recently about how I started my business and why I call it Hurricane Headwear. Well, it got me to thinking more and more about the actual word Hurricane, it's history and how they work. Get your notebooks out because class is officially in session.

Hurricanes Are Named for the Mayan God "Huracan"

Did you know that the word "hurricane" actually comes from the Taino (the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Florida) word "huricán", who was the Carib Indian god of evil. Their huricán was derived from the Mayan god of wind, storm, and fire, "huracán." It's believed that this word was used for well over a century, and when the Spanish explorers passed through the Caribbean, they picked it up and it turned into "huracán", which remains the Spanish word for hurricane still today. By the 16th century, the word was modified once again to our present-day "hurricane." So, the word has been around for a long, long time.

What is It?

The word hurricane is most prominent within the United States and the Caribbean. However, in other parts of the world such a storm is called either a typhoon or a cycloneTropical cyclones have different titles depending on where in the world they are located. Mature tropical cyclones with winds of 74 mph or more that exist anywhere in the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, or in the eastern or central North Pacific Ocean east of the International Date Line are called "hurricanes." Mature tropical cyclones that form in the Northwest Pacific basin -- the western part of the North Pacific Ocean, between 180° (the International Date Line) and 100° East longitude are called typhoons. Such tempests within the North Indian Ocean between 100° E and 45° E are simply called cyclones.

The word cyclone was invented a bit later on by a chap named Henry Piddington in 1848.

Piddington was an English sailor/merchant who got caught up in 'big storm' off the coast of India in 1833. As time went on, Piddington became more interested in these events and started to research. He became very respected and valuable in India and England because what he found out saved a tremendous amount in shipping losses as a result of his studies.

He named the storms cyclones, which is a derivative from the Greek root of cyclos meaning “circle.” But he actually visualized the storms like a giant snake coiled up on itself and the appropriate Greek word for that was cycloma.

Why Do Hurricane's Have Names?

Until the early 1950s, tropical storms and hurricanes were tracked by year and the order in which they occurred during that year. Over time, it was learned that the use of short, easily remembered names was a better way to communicate and reduced confusion when two or more tropical storms occur at the same time. Up until this point, a large number of storms got confused with others located in different locations, possibly hundreds of miles away.

In 1953, the United States began using female names for storms and, in 1978, both male and female names were used to identify Northern Pacific storms. This was then adopted in 1979 for storms in the Atlantic basin.

NOAA’s National Hurricane Center does not control the naming of tropical storms. Instead, there is a strict procedure established by the World Meteorological Organization. For Atlantic hurricanes, there is a list of male and female names which are used on a six-year rotation. The only time that there is a change is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate. In the event that more than twenty-one named tropical cyclones occur in a season, any additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet. Very interesting. 

How Does a Hurricane Start and Progress?

Tropical cyclones are like giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel. That is why they form only over warm ocean waters near the equator. The warm, moist air over the ocean rises upward from near the surface. Because this air moves up and away from the surface, there is less air left near the surface. Another way to say the same thing is that the warm air rises, causing an area of lower air pressure below.

Air from surrounding areas with higher air pressure pushes in to the low pressure area. Then that "new" air becomes warm and moist and rises, too. As the warm air continues to rise, the surrounding air swirls in to take its place. As the warmed, moist air rises and cools off, the water in the air forms clouds. The whole system of clouds and wind spins and grows, fed by the ocean's heat and water evaporating from the surface.

Storms that form north of the equator spin counterclockwise. Storms south of the equator spin clockwise. This difference is because of Earth's rotation on its axis. As the storm system rotates faster and faster, an eye forms in the center. It is very calm and clear in the eye, with very low air pressure. Higher pressure air from above flows down into the eye.

When the winds in the rotating storm reach 39 mph, the storm is called a "tropical storm." And when the wind speeds reach 74 mph, the storm is officially a "tropical cyclone," or hurricane.

Tropical cyclones usually weaken when they hit land, because they are no longer being "fed" by the energy from the warm ocean waters. However, they often move far inland, dumping many inches of rain and causing lots of wind damage before they die out completely.

Tropical cyclone categories:

Ok, I Give - Who's Saffir-Simpson? 

At first, I thought it was a rock band. Maybe a duo? Sunny and Cher. Captain and Tennille? Nope. Saffir and Simpson are the creators of the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale that you see listed above. 

The scale was developed in 1971 by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Robert Simpson, who at the time was director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Where's the Cat 6?

Well, it may be coming. Category 5 storms are any with wind speeds of over 157 mph. These storms (along with Category 4 storms) are happening more frequently, than they did when the initial Saffir-Simpson scale was created back in the early 70's.

In recent years, some storms have become so intense that they've reached wind speeds of over 200 mph. That's enough of a difference for many in the storm community to consider the expansion of the Saffir-Simpson scale. This is currently under constant consideration, up to this point, it's not officially recognized due to the fact that any event that hits as a Cat5 causes 'total destruction'. If we've got the equipment, I say add it for higher degree of accuracy. What says you?

Hurricane Zach?

That is me. I'm currently not listed with the World Meteorological Organization, but that can change any day now. For now, stay away from Southeast and vacay on the westside. A couple of earthquakes and the Newberry Caldera is a much happier place to spend your days. Oh, buy a hat. 

- Zach

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published