This week Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas, dumping massive amounts of rain and triggering catastrophic floods inland. Here are nine things you should know about these types of deadly storms:

1. A hurricane is a form of tropical storm that forms over warm ocean waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea, southern Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico. When the winds of a tropical storm are less than 38 mph, it is called a tropical depression, and when the winds reach between 39 and 73 mph, it is classified as a tropical storm. When the winds exceed 74 mph, it is classified as hurricane. (Storms in the Western hemisphere are called typhoons.)

2. Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes hurricanes, but the two necessary ingredients are wind and warm ocean water. Tropical cyclones are like “giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel,” which is why they form only over warm ocean waters near the equator. The warm, moist air over the ocean rises upward from near the surface, causing an area of lower air pressure below. According to NASA:

Air from surrounding areas with higher air pressure pushes in to the low pressure area. Then that “new” air becomes warm and moist and rises, too. As the warm air continues to rise, the surrounding air swirls in to take its place. As the warmed, moist air rises and cools off, the water in the air forms clouds. The whole system of clouds and wind spins and grows, fed by the ocean’s heat and water evaporating from the surface.

Because of Earth’s rotation on its axis, storms that form north of the equator spin counterclockwise, while. storms south of the equator spin clockwise. As the storm system begins to rotate faster, it creates an “eye” forms in the center, and are that is calm and clear in the eye, with low air pressure. Higher pressure air from above flows down into the eye. The calm eye is surrounded by a donut-like ring of thunderstorms called the “eye-wall.”

3. The movement of a hurricane from one location to another is known as hurricane propagation. Hurricanes are primarily steered by global winds, the prevailing winds that surround a hurricane, also known as the environmental wind field. The hurricane propagates in the direction of this wind field, which also factors into the system’s propagation speed. The movement of a hurricane in the Atlantic trade winds from the coast of Africa, high- and low-pressure systems, and the process called “beta drift.”

4. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale defines hurricane strength by categories. A Category 1 storm is the weakest hurricane with wind speeds between 74 and 95 mph (faster than a cheetah); Category 2 has speed between 96 and 110 mph (as fast as a baseball pitcher’s fastball); Category 3 has speed between 111 and 129 mph (the serving speed of many professional tennis players); Category 4 has speed between 130 and 156 mph (faster than the world’s fastest rollercoaster); and Category 5 has speed greater than or equal to 137 mph (the speed of some high-speed trains).

5. In 1953, the United States began using female names for storms. This was changed in 1978, and thereafter both male and female names were used to identify Northern Pacific storms. The names for Atlantic storms are chosen by the World Meteorological Organization from a list of 21 names on a six-year rotation. If a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate, the name is retired (about 86 names have been retired). In the event that more than 21 named tropical cyclones occur in a season, any additional storms will take names from the Greek alphabet.

6. Hurricanes cause damage in four main ways: wind, rainfall-induced flooding, tornadoes, and storm surge. Wind and rainfall-induced flooding is responsible for much of the structural damage caused by hurricanes. Storm surge is a rapid rise in the level of water that moves onto land as the eye of the storm makes landfall. Storm surge is water from the ocean that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the hurricane. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides and can increase the water level by 30 feet or more. Because of the impact of the water—a cubic yard of water weighs about 1,700 pounds—storm surges can cause extensive damage and are the greatest threat to life from a hurricane.

7. Earthquakes and tornadoes are the most feared types of natural disasters in America (21.1 percent of Americans fear earthquakes the most, while 17.6 percent of people who said they fear tornadoes the most). But hurricanes and tropical cyclones are the most deadly. Cyclones have killed 3,469 people from 1990 through 2018 (tornadoes and other severe storms are in second place, having killed 1,380). The deadliest storm in American history was the Galveston hurricane of 1900, which killed between 8,000 and 12,000 people. The deadliest storm in the United States in this century is last year’s Hurricane Maria. According to a new report by the New England Journal of Medicine, the storm was responsible for a 62 percent increase in the mortality rate and at least 4,645 excess deaths.

8. Because hurricanes do not occur near biblical lands, such storms are not directly mentioned in the Bible. However, related phenomena such as Mediterranean tropical-like cyclones (sometimes called Mediterranean hurricanes or Medicanes), tornadoes, flooding, and storm surges have been recorded in the Middle East. Like all forms of weather, Scriptures attribute such natural phenomena, as Jerry Bridges says, “to the direct controlling hand of God” (e.g., Job 37:3, 6, 10-13; Psa. 147:8, 16-18; Jer. 10:13; Amos 4:7).

9. In this video, Mike Bullmore discusses how we should interpret hurricanes and other natural disasters are whether they are necessarily a sign of God’s judgment.

Other posts in this series:

Infertility • The STD Crisis • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) • Russian President Vladimir Putin • Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh • MS-13 • Wicca and Modern Witchcraft • Jerusalem • Christianity in Korea • Creation of Modern Israel • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians • Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders •  Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease •  Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State

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