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Storms

Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew is currently storming across the tropical North Atlantic. Learn all about how hurricanes are created by areas of low pressure in Topics Online.

06.10.2016

The hurricane season in the North Atlantic officially runs from June to November. During this period, the water surface temperatures can soar above 27 °C making it ideal for a hurricane to form. If other supportive factors also come into play, such as low wind shears or a sufficient distance from the equator, a tropical area of low pressure may develop.

If this area of low pressure continues to draw more and more water vapour upwards, a kind of atmospheric thermal machine is generated by the circulation of warm and cold air. At a wind speed of 62 km/h, the storm is referred to as a tropical cyclone, whereas a hurricane is produced at a wind speed above 118 km/h. In some cases, a hurricane’s wind speed can reach 300 km/h. As long as the storm remains out at sea, there is really not much to worry about. But if a hurricane reaches coastal regions, which are usually highly populated, we feel the full force of its wrath.

Hurricane season 2016 – surprisingly no major damage

On average, there have been 14.6 tropical cyclones a year in the North Atlantic since 1995, 7.4 of which reached hurricane strength. Around 75% of the storms took place up until the end of September. Hurricane Matthew is the 13th storm to be named in this year's hurricane season for the North Atlantic, meaning that storm activity for the period up to September has just topped the average for the last 20 years. However the damage expected from hurricane Matthew was kept well within limits for 2016 due to the paths the storm took.

Low-pressure system forms

Hurricane Matthew is currently storming across the tropical North Atlantic. Learn all about how hurricanes are created by areas of low pressure in Topics Online. © Munich Re
Hurricanes derive their energy from the evaporation of warm surface water. In the eyewall, as the band of clouds surrounding the eye of the hurricane is known, warm air rises. This is where maximum condensation of water vapour occurs, creating massive thunderclouds and heavy rain.

From cyclone to hurricane

Hurricane Matthew is currently storming across the tropical North Atlantic. Learn all about how hurricanes are created by areas of low pressure in Topics Online. © Munich Re
Air masses cool down and sink outside the eyewall and in the eye of the hurricane. Meanwhile, more heat and moisture is taken on by cooler air at the sea surface, and this rises upwards, further fuelling the atmospheric heat engine.

Formidable forces rage in the eyewall

Hurricane Matthew is currently storming across the tropical North Atlantic. Learn all about how hurricanes are created by areas of low pressure in Topics Online. © Munich Re
Due to the earth’s rotation, the air flows at the centre of the hurricane are deflected, creating a vortex. The eye of the hurricane continues to expand, and can attain a diameter of as much as 60 kilometres. Absolute calm prevails within the eye. The eyewall, where the most damaging winds are found, is what constitutes the destructive element. If the wind speed of a tropical cyclone exceeds 118 km/h it is classified as a hurricane.

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