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Monday, September 1, 2008.


From Cuba to Jamaica, Hurricane Gustav has caused devastation in the Caribbean, and it is now making its way to America. Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and more than 80 people killed so far.


Below, we give you the lowdown on hurricanes.

What are hurricanes and how do you forecast them?

The terms "hurricane" and "typhoon" are regionally specific names for a strong "tropical cyclone". A tropical cyclone is
the generic term for a non-frontal synoptic scale
low-pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters
with organized convection - that is thunderstorm activity -and definite cyclonic surface wind circulation.

Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 17 m/s (34 kt, 39 mph) are called "tropical


This is not to be confused with the condition mid-latitude people get during a long, cold and grey winter wishing they could be closer to the equator.

Once the tropical cyclone reaches winds of at least 17 m/s (34 kt, 39 mph) they are typically called a "tropical storm" and assigned a name.


If winds reach 33 m/s (64 kt, 74 mph)), then they are called "Hurricane".


Where do they get their names from?

Tropical cyclones are named to provide ease of
communication between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts, watches, and warnings.

Since the storms can often last a week or longer and that
more than one can be occurring in the same basin at the
same time, names can reduce the confusion about what
storm is being described.

The first use of a proper name for a tropical cyclone was by an Australian forecaster early in the 20th century. He gave tropical cyclone names after political figures whom he disliked. By properly naming a hurricane, this weatherman could publicly describe a politician - who perhaps was not too generous with weather-bureau appropriations - as "causing great distress" or "wandering aimlessly about the Pacific."


During World War II, tropical cyclones were informally given women's names by the US Army Air Corp and Navy
meteorologists who were monitoring and forecasting tropical cyclones over the Pacific. Initially, the names were those of their girlfriends and wives.

From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones of the
North Atlantic
were identified by the phonetic alphabet
(Able-Baker-Charlie-etc.), but in 1953 the US Weather
Bureau switched to women's names. In 1979, the World Meterological Organisation (WMO) and the US National Weather Service (NWS) switched to a list of names that also included men's names.

The Northeast Pacific basin tropical cyclones were named
using women's names starting in 1959 for storms near
Hawaii, and in 1960 for the remainder of the Northeast
Pacific basin. In 1978, both men's and women's names were utilized.

The Northwest Pacific basin tropical cyclones were given
women's names officially starting in 1945 and men's names were also included beginning in 1979.

Beginning on
January 1, 2000, tropical cyclones in the
Northwest Pacific basin are being named from a new and
very different list of names. The new names are Asian
names and were contributed by all the nations and
territories that are members of the WMO's Typhoon

These newly selected names have two major differences
from the rest of the world's tropical cyclone name rosters.

One, the names by and large are not personal names. There are a few men's and women's names, but the majority are names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, or even foods, while some are descriptive adjectives.

Secondly, the names will not be allotted in alphabetical
order, but are arranged by contributing nation with the
countries being alphabetized.

North Indian Ocean region tropical cyclones are not

Southwest Indian Ocean tropical cyclones were first
named during the 1960 - 1961 season.

The Australian and South Pacific region (east of 90E, south of the equator) started giving women's names to the storms
in 1964 and both men's and women's names in 1974/1975.

Who or what determine whether the names should be femi
nine like Rita or masculine like Gustav?

The names of hurricanes andtyphoons are decided by the
various Tropical Cyclone centres. The one in
Miami decides the names for the north Atlantic and northeast Pacific

How or when do storms become hurricanes?

Tropical Storms become hurricanes when the mean wind speeds reach 74mph.

Are hurricanes just synonymous with the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast of the United States? Or do they happen here in the UK and Europe and how regular do they occur? 

Hurricanes are tropical features and require sea
temperatures of at least 27C to be maintained. Sea
temperatures round the
UK are nowhere near that high,
even in high summer, so they cannot exist at our latitudes.


However, we do get the remnants of old hurricanes coming out of the tropics, and they get entrained into the Atlantic flow, causing some of the depression to be more active than usual, as they add extra moisture and heat.

The infamous storm of October 1987 continued the
remnants of an old hurricane, and August 2004, saw at
least three ex-hurricanes come across the
UK, giving a wetter than average month. We can get hurricane force winds from our normal winter storms, but we do not get hurricanes.

Are all hurricanes violent and how do you grade them?

Not all hurricanes are violent, and sometimes it is the heavy rain that causes problems, rather than the strong winds. The scale below refers to the
Atlantic and northeast Pacific.

Hurricane strength is defined on the Saffir-Simpson scale
noted below:

Category 1 sustained wind speeds of 74 to 95 m.p.h.
Category 2 sustained wind speeds of 96 to 110 m.p.h.
Category 3 sustained wind speeds of 111 to 130 m.p.h.
Category 4 sustained wind speeds of 131 to 155 m.p.h.
Category 5 sustained wind speeds greater than 155 m.p.h.

What is the worst hurricane ever in the world?

The 'worst' hurricane is difficult to judge, as there are some variable, worst winds, most expensive, greatest loss of life, etc.

Are we expecting any hurricanes in Europe anytime soon?

As mentioned earlier we do not get hurricanes in the UK or Europe, but the remnants. Scotland has caught the
remnants of at least two if not three in recent weeks that have come out of the tropics, but we do not envisage any from the time being.

Mastering the lingo

Experts say that Hurricanes are predominant in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the international dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east  of 160E.

"Typhoon" are found in the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline.


"Severe tropical cyclone"  in the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90E.

"Severe cyclonic storm" in the North Indian Ocean.

"Tropical cyclone" in the Southwest Indian Ocean.

With thanks to Robin Thwaytes at the UK meteorological Office.

For answers to questions on any news events please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

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