Clearly defined “eyes” indicate a hurricane with strong winds.
Hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones are different names for the same type of storm. A tropical cyclone is called a hurricane in the North Atlantic Ocean, South Pacific Ocean, or Northeast Pacific Ocean on the east side of the data line. A typhoon occurs in the northwest Pacific Ocean west of the data line. In other parts of the world, these storms are called severe tropical cyclones.
A hurricane, then, is a cyclonic storm with maximum sustained winds of more than 74 mph (64 knots; 119 km/h). These storms are then ranked according to strength on the Saffir-Simpson scale. There are five categories of force, with maximum sustained winds of Category 5 storm rating above 156 mph (136 knots; 251 km/h).
This type of severe storm usually starts out as an organized band of convection, or storms, called a tropical wave. When conditions are favorable, the wave begins to organize and strengthen even more. Convection increases and the wave begins to take on cyclonic characteristics. If the strengthening continues, it will develop an eye and an eye wall and soon become a hurricane. Favorable conditions for the development of storms include the system being over very warm water and in an environment with little wind shear. Wind shear is bad for a storm because it sends winds in the opposite direction, thus inhibiting cyclone formation.
The heat and moisture of ocean water give hurricanes sometimes deadly force.
A cyclone itself is often a generic name for any type of violent windstorm and, particularly in the Midwestern United States, is the name tornado. A tornado and a hurricane are two entirely different storms, however. A tornado is usually the result of a mesocyclone, or severe storm, over land, although a tropical cyclone hitting land can spawn tornadoes. They are also smaller, short-lived storms, while a hurricane covers several hundred square miles or kilometers and can last for several days over water.
The hurricane quickly loses strength when it makes landfall because it is deprived of the heat and moisture of the ocean water that keeps it alive. One who passes over land and returns to the ocean, however, can regenerate.
Thunder and lightning are common in hurricanes.
While most people think of a tropical cyclone as being primarily a windstorm, its actual damage is often caused by flooding. This was evident in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the coasts of the Gulf of Louisiana and Mississippi. The storm dropped to a Category 3 overland, but the storm in front of it was driven by the storm when it was Category 5. The storm was well above 20 feet (6 meters) in some areas and swept away thousands of homes in its path.
Hail can accompany storms.
The National Weather Service’s Tropical Prediction Center tracks storms in the North and Eastern Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Oceans. Their website provides a wealth of information on storm formation, tracking and forecasting, as well as statistics from previous years.