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Hurricane Movement - Windows to the Universe

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Track of Hurricane Charley, August 9-15, 2004
Courtesy of USGS based on data from the National Weather Service

Hurricane Movement

Each hurricane moves across the ocean and usually hits the land too. How do we know which way a hurricane will go? Several different things control where a hurricane goes.  

Global winds carry hurricanes from one place to another. In the warm tropics these winds blow from east to west. In the Atlantic, storms are carried by these winds from the coast of Africa to the Caribbean and North America.

After a hurricane crosses an ocean and reaches a continent, the winds weaken. This means that the Coriolis Effect has more of an impact on where the storm goes. In the Northern Hemisphere the Coriolis Effect can cause a tropical storm to curve to the north.

When a storm starts to move north, it moves into another type of global wind that blows from west to east. These winds move in the opposite direction from the tropical winds. This makes the hurricane move east as it travels north.

All these things can make a hurricane move in a typical path, like the one in this picture. However, not all hurricanes are typical! There are other factors that affect a hurricane's path too. Some hurricanes make very complex paths that are not at all typical.

Last modified March 31, 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 by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF