Hurricanes are the most devastating natural disaster, effecting thousands of people each year. During each hurricane season, innocent people are injured, property is demolished, and money is forever lost. Hurricanes cause damage in a variety of ways, including strong winds, storm surges, flooding, tornadoes, and rip tides.
- Strong Winds
The strong winds of a hurricane are most often associated with the widespread damage from a hurricane. The rapidly moving winds can uproot trees, throw cars, and level buildings. A storm is first classified as a hurricane when its winds exceed 74 miles per hour, though many reach as dangerously high as 200 miles per hour.
A gust of wind at 125 miles per hour.
- Storm Surges
Hurricanes also cause storm surges, the rising of the sea level caused by low pressure, high winds, and high waves. These are characteristic of hurricanes as they reach land. Storm surges cause significant flooding and being caught in one is almost certain death.
Storm surges occur as strong winds blow toward the shore push water in its direction causing much of the coastal flooding. The central pressure of the hurricane is low enough in altitude that the lack of atmospheric weight above the eye and eye wall of the hurricane causes a bulge in the ocean surface. This low pressure lifts up the ocean surface in the center.
Storm surges vary in height based on the hurricane.s intensity, ranging from 3 to 25 feet. The distance that a storm surge travels inland is determined by the landscape. In flat areas, a surge can intrude as far as a mile, leading to flooding and the destruction of property.
A storm surge during hurricane Isabel.
Flooding is caused by the storm surges and the heavy rainfall associated with the storm. Even when the hurricane moves inland and begins to deteriorate, there still may be a tremendous amount of rainfall.
Many people are unaware of tornadoes that form during hurricanes. These tornadoes are found relatively close to the eye wall of a hurricane where the conditions are ideal for their formation. The tornadoes occur in heavy areas of rain, making them extremely difficult to track.
- Tip Tides
Rip tides are the final source of damage from hurricanes. Rip tides are very powerful sea currents moving outward from the shore when a strong storm is nearby. They are formed by the strong winds pushing water toward the shore, similar to storm surges. Winds from tropical cyclones push waves up against the shoreline even if the storm is hundreds of miles away, making rip tides the first indications of an approaching hurricane.
The incoming waves create an underwater sandbar close to shore and the waves continuously push water in between the sandbar and the shore until a section of this sandbar collapses. The excess water is forced through the gap, creating a very strong, but narrow current away from the shore. Rip tides are so powerful that a person physically cannot overcome the pull of the tide. However, these tides are narrow enough that if a person swims parallel to the sure, it is possible to escape the current.
A mild rip tide.