We are used to hearing of damage caused by hurricanes in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico but this week’s reporting of the chaos caused in New York
by the ‘Frankenstorm’ Hurricane Sandy has had many reaching for their record books - but is a hurricane this far north unusual?
Hurricanes generally form, travel and dissipate between the 10 and 30 degree marks north of the equator. That’s roughly between the north coast of Venezuela and the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Records show that only 1 in 7 hurricanes ever break out of this range because of the Coriolis Effect caused by the earth’s rotation. It’s estimated that only 1 in 100 make it as far north as Hurricane Sandy has and when they do, the remains can blow across the Atlantic towards the UK as happened in 1987 with devastating results.
Most of the damage is done by the incredibly strong and persistent winds, whipped up by the Coriolis Effect that causes the hurricane to spin but the extreme low pressure, sometimes down as low as 870mbar, causes a storm surge as the water under the hurricane rises to fill the void caused by the low pressure. Walls of water, sometimes up to 25ft can form, especially in conjunction with strong tides, crashing into coastal towns and sweeping inland up to thirty miles.
Hurricane Katrina may have been the most infamous hurricane of recent times, killing hundreds in its path but Hurricane Sandy is likely to supplant it in many people’s minds. However, the most damage ever caused by a hurricane is attributed to an unnamed one that hit Miami in 1926 causing an estimated US$157bn of damage that crippled the Florida economy for the best part of the following decade.
If you’re planning a holiday in the Caribbean or along the eastern seaboard of the United States between June and November, you will need to be aware that this is the hurricane season. It’s exclusively between those dates as a hurricane needs very warm water to form and prior to June and after November, sea temperatures are too cool.
For over half a century, scientists have been able to predict where hurricanes will form and even have a good idea of their direction and travel time; plenty of information for people to evacuate danger zones or to work on protecting property. The warning period is often sufficient for travellers to make other plans so whilst disruption is caused, at least it doesn’t come as a surprise.
Hurricane Sandy may be a surprise and unwelcome visitor to New York but you can at least be reassured it won’t happen too often!
Hurricanes Facts – Did You Know?
The air in the centre of a hurricane is several degrees warmer than the air encircling it
In the northern hemisphere the winds blow anticlockwise around a hurricane whilst in the southern hemisphere they blow clockwise
They are variously named typhoons, hurricanes or cyclones depending on their location
The fastest wind speeds recorded are sustained at over 150mph
There’s a strict naming procedure with six rotating lists of A-Z names, once only female, now three of each. The names of particularly violent ones are replaced.