How do Hurricanes form?

Hurricane clouds off the Yucatan
Most of the storms in the Atlantic form off of Africa’s west coast, near Cape Verde Islands. This is the point where the trade winds from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres meet and cause tropical disturbances or thunderstorms. These disturbances can grow in strength and become tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes with the correct ocean and atmospheric conditions.

The ocean waters need to be warmer than 81 F giving the system great heat and moisture, increasing the energy in the system, and our warm Caribbean waters are averaging temperatures in the mid 80’s over the summer months, perfect for increasing the strength of tropical disturbances. Storm systems will weaken rapidly when they travel over cooler water or over land, or areas with insufficient heat and moisture.

hurricane damage
In terms of the atmospheric conditions required for hurricane formation, there needs to be high relative humidity in the lower and middle troposphere, or the lowest part of the earth’s atmosphere where all the weather takes place. The high humidity reduces the amount of evaporation in clouds and maximizes latent heat released due to the increased precipitation. It is the concentration of latent heat that is critical to driving the system.

There are many weather requirements for the formation of tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes, and it is true that the elements required are often present in the warm Caribbean waters. However, as with all things in life, with the good comes the bad. A hurricane is a natural force that have been viewed for centuries as a cleansing force that wipes away the old and leaves the ability for a fresh beginning.

Learn about the 2007 hurricane season.