Couldn't find element LayerAd

Error finding content

Hurricane Movement - Windows to the Universe

Shop Windows to the Universe

The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.
Track of Hurricane Charley, August 9-15, 2004
Courtesy of USGS based on data from the National Weather Service

Hurricane Movement

How do we know which way a hurricane will go? Forecasters track hurricane movements and predict where the storms will travel as well as when and where they will reach land. While each storm will make its own path, the movement of every hurricane is affected by a combination of the factors described below.

Hurricanes are steered by global winds. These winds, called trade winds, blow from east to west in the tropics. They carry hurricanes and other tropical storms from east to west. In the Atlantic, storms are carried by the trade winds from the coast of Africa where they typically form westward to the Caribbean and North American coasts. When the trade winds are strong it is easier to predict where the storm will travel. When they are weak it's more difficult.

After a hurricane crosses an ocean and reaches a continent, the trade 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 northward.

When a storm starts to move northward, it leaves the trade winds and moves into the westerlies, the west to east global wind found at mid-latitudes. Because the westerlies move in the opposite direction from trade winds, the hurricane can reverse direction and move east as it travels north.

High pressure systems can also affect the path of storms. In the Atlantic Ocean, the Bermuda High affects the path of hurricanes. When the storms are carried west by the trade winds, they are pushed north around the edge of the high pressure area.

Although these factors add up to a typical hurricane path that travels west and then bends poleward, there are other factors that affect a hurricane's path and complex hurricane tracks are common too.

Last modified March 31, 2009 by Lisa Gardiner.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

Science, Evolution, and Creationism

How did life evolve on Earth? The answer to this question can help us understand our past and prepare for our future. Although evolution provides credible and reliable answers, polls show that many people turn away from science, seeking other explanations with which they are more comfortable....more

Earth's Ocean

Earth's ocean covers more than 70% of our planet's surface. There are five major ocean basins. The Pacific Ocean is the largest. It’s so large that it covers a third of the Earth's surface. The Atlantic...more

Why the Different Airplanes?

Why do the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the Hurricane Research Division use different airplanes? Actually, they only use two main types. The top two airplanes in the graphic, the WC-130H Hercules...more

Chasing the Storm

The official "Hurricane Hunters" are the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. They fly through the eyes of hurricanes and record information. The information helps the National Hurricane...more

The 2005 Hurricane Season Is Churning the Atlantic

The hurricane season in the North Atlantic is particularly strong this year. And scientists predict that the storms will be getting stronger because of global warming. Follow the links below to find out...more

Hurricane Damage

Rain, wind, tornadoes, and storm surge related to hurricanes cause change to natural environments, damage to the human-built environment, and even loss of life. When a hurricane is over the ocean and far...more

Storm Strength

A cyclone is an area of low pressure with winds blowing counter-clockwise around it in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise around it in the Southern Hemisphere. A tropical cyclone is a cyclone which...more

Different Names for Different Places

Different places in the world call tropical cyclones by different names. If you click on the image at left you will see which areas use "cyclone", which use "hurricane", and which use "typhoon" when refering...more

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