Every year, from June 1st until November 30th, storm trackers, meteorologists and communities along the coastal regions of the Atlantic, Caribbean, Central Pacific and Gulf of Mexico prepare for hurricane season. The hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific basin varies slightly, running from May 15th until November 30th. While there have occasionally been instances with storms forming as early as May and as late as December, these occurrences are rare. On average, there are somewhere between nine and ten of named storms, either depressions or tropical storms, in any given season. Yet, the average number of hurricanes that form is between five and six storms, two or three of these generally become major hurricanes that showcase tremendous impact along the coastal seaboard.

Hurricanes usually threaten several areas and can form almost anywhere within the Tropical Atlantic Basin from the West Coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands, to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. These areas are considered to be prime locations because the development of tropical storms and depressions occur more often in these locales, with relation to the time of year and necessary environmental conditions. Some of the most common areas hurricanes tend to develop in the Atlantic Basin include the Gulf of Mexico, the Western Caribbean and the Cape Verde Islands. The Gulf of Mexico proves an extremely favorable region for hurricane development because of the warm water temperatures throughout the hurricane season, ranging from 85 degrees Fahrenheit to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Storms occurring in this region typically move in to the Gulf Coast states, from Texas to Florida. Unlike the Eastern and Central Caribbean, areas not as advantageous for hurricanes because of hostile, upper level winds, the Western Caribbean offers very favorable upper winds and is considered a "hot spot" for storm development throughout the season. Storms developing from this area generally move into the Gulf Coast or along the East Coast. Many consider the Cape Verde Islands the "granddaddy of hurricane hot spots" as it proves the most widespread area for hurricane development. This proves especially true in August, when the water temperatures warm up enough to provide perfect conditions for tropical storm formations. Hurricanes from this region tend to move westward toward the Caribbean and Eastern Coast of America.

Damages from hurricanes result from a number of different aspects of the storm such as the rain, ferocious winds and tornadoes. Hurricanes bring with them large amounts of rain. Huge hurricanes can end up diving out several inches of rain in just one or two days - much of it inland. The increase of rain inland can overflow streams and rivers, and resultantly create flooding that devastates a large area around the hurricane's center. Hurricane Floyd, which hit a number of small towns and communities along North Carolina's coastal region, caused massive flooding throughout the area. Many of the region's creeks and brooks were already swelled from Hurricane Dennis just weeks earlier, and Floyd's onset of flooding created immense overflow around the state. Hurricanes also produce high sustained winds that more often than not cause extreme structural damage to the surrounding towns and communities. Along with devastating buildings, these high winds can also roll over cars and trucks, blow over trees and can be blamed for a large part of the beach erosion. The winds add to the erosion through blowing sand as well as blowing large waves into the beach. The storms dominant winds also create one of the most devastating aspects of a storm, storm surge. The surge is when huge, strong ocean waves hit the shore because of the strength of winds. Ocean front property is particularly susceptible to such surges. In the unfortunate occurrence that a storm surge collides with high tide, inland flooding and beach erosion can reach devastating levels. Tornadoes are also a side effect of hurricanes, often spawning from high winds. These smaller, more concentrated cyclones cause additional damage. The degree of damage resulting from a hurricane depends on a number of things: whether the storm simply grazes the coastline or comes ashore straight-on, whether the area in question has been hit by the right or left side of the storm and the overall category of the hurricane. Areas affected by the right side of a hurricane sustain more damage because the speed of the wind and speed of motion work in sync and flatter one another. On the left side of a storm, the speed of motion takes away from the wind speed. The combined forces of a hurricane can cause tremendous damage to far reaching cities and can level a coastal area. North Carolina's 1996 storm, Hurricane Fran, hit as far inland as 150 miles to the state's capital of Raleigh, NC. The overall damage measured in billions of dollars as millions of tree fell, electricity was out for weeks in certain areas and the number of homes damaged or completely leveled ran in the tens of thousands.

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Terms: Hurricanes


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