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From Africa to the U.S. Gulf Coast: How Hurricanes Form.

Staff Desk



The old saying “A butterfly flaps its wings on the coast of Africa and there is a hurricane in the Gulf” may sound like a bit of an exaggeration, but the science behind the adage is truthful. Severe weather systems are hardly ever isolated incidents, but rather a culmination of factors and weather formations that work together to produce destructive weather like hurricanes.

Hurricanes need a few things to survive, the main components being: warm water, high pressure and transportation. The reason why places like Africa and the Gulf Coast are so prone to hurricanes is because they contain these things during a majority of the year. Hurricane season is traditionally June 1 through November 30 and during this time, waters in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico become warm enough to support hurricane force winds.

In order to explain how hurricanes are formed, a little geography lesson is needed to begin. The Equator dissects the Earth into two hemispheres. The areas surrounding the Equator are known as tropics, the Tropic of Cancer to the north and the Tropic of Capricorn to the south. The areas surrounding the tropics are known as subtropics and if you didn’t guess it already, the Gulf of Mexico is right in the middle of a subtropical region. Thanks to the subtropical ridges that extend trade winds from east to west, when tropical storms form along the African coastline, they find a fast path straight to the southern coast of the U.S. in thanks to the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is a strong, warm water current that originates along the African coast, crosses the North Atlantic ocean and then moves along the eastern coast of the U.S. where it heads for northern Europe and Canada.

How does the Gulf Stream bring hurricanes to the south of the U.S. if it moves along the eastern coast? Well, it acts as a vehicle, bringing the tropical storm to the warmed waters of the Gulf wear they gain strength and develop into hurricanes. Usually there are about 11 named storms that occur every year in the United States alone, primarily in the Gulf Coast or along the eastern coast. You may be wondering why hurricanes never form in along the Pacific coast of the U.S. and that is because the waters along states like California and Oregon rarely warm above 70 degrees, so hurricane winds usually die before making landfall, according to The Catastrophe Geek.

Hurricanes are unpredictable but with the advances in satellite technology and meteorological equipment, communities are better able to predict the path, intensity and damage that hurricanes can cause. Some of the most powerful and destructive hurricanes in history are found in the Gulf Coast’s history such as the Galveston hurricane (1900), and others like Betsey (1965), Camille (1969), Celia (1970), and the infamous Katrina (2005). Hurricanes are not only dangerous because of the singular effects from rainfall and winds but the damage that is caused from flooding and subsequent tornados can be debilitating for many communities. Every generation has their “storm” and while humanity may never be able to eradicate hurricanes, understanding that preparation and knowledge will help keep death tolls to a minimum.

This post was written by M.G. Bachemin in association with Herb Carver. For more information about sever weather systems and how to handle them, visit