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Five things that a hurricane needs
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How Hurricanes Form

A tropical thunderstorm can grow into a massive hurricane under certain conditions. Sometimes several thunderstorms start rotating around a central area of low pressure. This is called a tropical depression. If the depression strengthens so that winds reach at least 39 mph, it is called a tropical storm. And if wind speeds increase to more than 74 mph, it is called a tropical cyclone or hurricane.

Once formed, hurricanes take energy from the warm ocean water to become stronger. A storm will strengthen if there is a supply of warm, moist air to feed it. Warm, moist air is found above warm, tropical ocean waters. While a hurricane is over warm water it will continue to grow. A hurricane dies when it moves away from the tropics. When a hurricane moves into areas with cooler ocean water, it weakens. It will also weaken if it travels over land.

The rotation of the storm is due to the Coriolis Effect, a product of the Earth's rotation. This causes the air being drawn into the central low pressure to curve. The air rises as it rotates. This rising air, which is saturated with water, cools and condenses, forming clouds. Hurricanes do not occur within 300 miles (500 kilometers) of the equator because there is no Coriolis Effect at the equator.

Last modified March 13, 2009 by Lisa Gardiner.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA