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How powerful is a hurricane?

A hurricane is a tropical cyclone, occurring in the North Atlantic Ocean or the Northeast Pacific Ocean, east of the International Dateline. The term hurricane is derived from Huracan, a god of evil recognized by the Tainos, an ancient aboriginal tribe from Central America.

Hurricanes' energy comes from solar heat that was stored in the ocean . The hurricane sucks in warm, humid air from the lower atmosphere. The air was heated by the sun and moisture from the sea has evaporated into the air.

As the air is warm it rises and the water vapor condenses, releasing the heat energy that the moisture absorbed as it evaporated from the ocean. The storm exhausts its supply of heat (water vapor) when it moves over land or colder water.

These storms come in varying intensities. The "Saffir-Simpson" scale rates hurricane strength upon the highest sustained (1 minute average) wind speed the hurricane is producing. These categories were chosen based upon the amount of damage that each category can produce.

Intensity       Wind Speed      Damage

Category 1     74- 95 mph      MINIMAL: tree branches, shrubs, minor pier damage
Category 2     96-110 mph     MODERATE: mobile homes, some trees down
Category 3     111-130 mph   EXTENSIVE: small buildings damaged, large trees down
Category 4     131-155 mph   EXTREME: outer walls damaged, roof failure on small buildings, mobile homes destroyed
Category 5     >155 mph       CATASTROPHIC: complete roof failure on many buildings, some buildings destroyed

As winds increase to 63 kilometers (39 miles) per hour, storm receives a name. This tradition started with the use of World War II vintage code names such as Able, Baker, Charlie, etc. In 1953, female names were used exclusively until the late 1970s, when storm names began to be alternated between male and female names.

In a day, a hurricane can release an amount of energy equal to all of the electricity the entire world can generate in 200 days! A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20x1013 watts. This heat released is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes.

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