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Engines of Destruction: The Science of Hurricanes

Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katrina, Maria, Sandy. Hurricanes have been major news stories in 2005 and 2012, and continue to be in 2017, starting in August when Harvey crossed the Caribbean and made landfall in Texas. What causes these gigantic spiraling storms?

Prepare for some hurricane science: Joe Hanson of It’s Okay to Be Smart explains a bit about their history, how they form, and how we rate their intensity levels in Engines of Destruction: The Science of Hurricanes. Plus, from National Geographic:

The Atlantic Ocean’s hurricane season peaks from mid-August to late October and averages five to six hurricanes per year. While cyclones on the northern Indian Ocean typically form between April and December, with peak storm activity around May and November.

Hurricanes begin as tropical disturbances in warm ocean waters with surface temperatures of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.5 degrees Celsius). Those low-pressure systems are fed by energy from warm seas…

Hurricanes are enormous heat engines that deliver energy on a staggering scale. They draw heat from warm, moist ocean air and release it through condensation of water vapor in thunderstorms.

Hurricanes spin around a low-pressure center known as the eye. Sinking air makes this 20- to 40-mile-wide (32- to 64-kilometer-wide) area notoriously calm. But the eye is surrounded by a circular “eye wall” that contains the storm’s strongest winds and rain.

And below: How can we comprehend a storm like Hurricane Harvey? Hanson puts Hurricane Harvey measurements into perspective.

Additional reading and resources via IOTBS: Yale survey of climate change risks and Hurricane frequency and damage estimates over last century.

Next: Weather vs. Climate + Severe Weather with Crash Course Kids.

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