Sizing Up Hurricanes

Hurricanes and Tropical storms can cause stress. This stress can have a massive effect on our mental health. So, to help, I thought I’d share what I know. I use three factors to assess low-pressure storms; wind speed (category), which side of the storm is hitting our area, and the approach angle. I will repeat these, so please bear with me. 

Hurricane Isaias left a path of increasing destruction. My Floridian friends complained about how weak the tropical storm performed. For me, I was apprehensive. Living in Louisiana afforded me the experience to evaluate hurricanes. Before it’s asked, yes, I was there for Katrina. And yes, I ran for the hills. By experiencing these phenomena first hand, I have learned a lot. 

So how can one look at a storm and know how bad it’s about to get. That’s a good question and one worth entertaining. But before we get into the mechanics of a storm, let’s get a full understanding that a rotating low pressure is as predictable as a spinning top. We can only assess and assume the worse. No one knows for sure the damage that will occur. 

So what is a hurricane? In the purest form, In the northern hemisphere, t’s a counter-clockwise rotating low-pressure cell. We know that hot items expand and cold items contract. The same is with air low and high air pressures, but both forces can be either hot or cold. Low pressures draw air upward, pulling air to the center of the cell. And high pressure draws air downward. Due to the wind hitting the ground, it’s forced outward. This is how we get the inward and outward effect of each cell. 

In the diagram above, we can see that the right side winds are more robust than the winds on the left. If we were in the southern hemisphere, then the left side would have stronger winds. It is essential to know what side of the storm we are on. 

Another attribute of a hurricane worth looking at is the angle of approach. I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible. In simple terms, land often slows down the forward progression of a hurricane. The low-pressure cell is also drawing water up like a vacuum, which means that the sea level on the upper right corner is higher than the sea level of the lower left. If the left side hits land, then, surging waters can be expected to be minimum. But if the upper right makes landfall, then we can expect storm surges that are indicative of the low pressure’s strength. In 2018 we had hurricane Florence make landfall. 

Although it was a category one hurricane, its approach was almost perpendicular to the land. This approach angle had a considerable effect on it stalling, dumping much rain, and causing massive damage and flooding. Hurricane Isaias, on the other hand, was more parallel with the coastal line. Thus, it came and went. As discussed earlier, those on the right side of the center received stronger winds. Damages ranged from “Hey, where’s my trashcan lid?” to trees toppling. 

Storms will come and go. How we prepare ourselves determines how well we weather the storm. Anxiety is a common reaction, but with a calm head and collective thoughts, we can minimize the storm’s effects. Weather patterns are changing. It is up to us to educate ourselves and learn when we are safe and when we need to retreat. As we learned with Hurricane Florence, even a category one hurricane can bring devastation if the angle of approach is right. 

So, by knowing the category, which side of the storm is hitting us, and the approach angle, we can determine the outcome. Keep in mind that storms -cells are never 100% predictable. Prepare for the unexpected. Sometimes that may mean we need to evacuate. Speaking of evacuating. Please don’t do it during high winds or flooding. Unless a rescue team has made their way to you, leaving can be more dangerous than hunkering. Know and understand the risks associated with evacuating. 

Until the next blog, live life and be happy.

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