Why some hurricanes linger In this photo provided by Jason Heskew, a downed tree blocks a street during Hurricane Maria in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years tore off roofs and doors, knocked out power across the entire island and unleashed heavy flooding. (Jason Heskew via AP/NASA via AP)
Why some hurricanes linger
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This hurricane season is showing how wild and varied storms' life cycles can be.

Most storms seem to be tracked for days while others appear to pop out of nowhere. And some just linger around.

Hurricane Jose is pushing the two-week mark as it meanders off the U.S. East Coast. Lee is a named a tropical storm. It is barely hanging on as a tropical depression.

Harvey formed and then it died. And then it came back to life as a major hurricane. It dumped a record amount of rainfall on south Texas last month. Hurricane Katia seemed to just pop up in the Gulf of Mexico days before hitting the Mexico coast.

Forecasters watched Harvey and Irma. They watched Jose and Lee. And now they are watching Maria. They made steady marches west off Africa before they got named. About four out of five major hurricanes start out similarly. They form off the African coast as unstable waves or patches of storminess. The National Hurricane Center monitors them. It gives them yellow, orange or red letter Xs on forecast outlook maps.

Not all of these waves survive the trip west. They need favorable winds and warm water. And they need moist air. This is how they get stronger. Some get strong immediately while others intensify over the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. Some don't even get their acts together until they cross over the Pacific. This is according to Phil Klotzbach. He is a Colorado State University hurricane researcher.

The rest of the storms usually form in the warm and unstable waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They pop up from mid-latitude normal storm fronts, often early or late in hurricane season, Klotzbach said.

During the peak of hurricane season, mid-August to mid-October, it's Africa that acts as the chief Atlantic storm generator.

Even those less common ones that form in the Gulf of Mexico aren't total surprises. Meteorologists monitor storm clouds clustering together a couple days before they become named storms.

Once a named storm forms, "it's hard to get rid of it" and it'll keep going until it's stopped, Klotzbach said.

Four things generally kill a hurricane: High-level winds, dry air, cold water and land. And it's pretty much just chance if they run into any of those four storm-killers, said MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel.

High-level winds are called shear and are a major issue. These winds at about 10,000 feet high can decapitate a hurricane. Maria, the latest storm, has almost no shear. It can get more powerful. But a wall of shear hit and is killing Lee, Klotzbach said.

Warm water is a hurricane's fuel — the temperature needs to be 79 degrees or warmer. When the water cools the storm runs out of gas. Sometimes the storm runs into cold water and other times it makes the cold water itself by not moving much and churning it up from the depths.

When storms go over land, they lose fuel and eventually disappear. That happened to Harvey and Irma.

On average, Atlantic named storms last about six days. But there are exceptions. One almost lasted 28 days in 1899. Hurricane Ginger made it to 27 days in 1971. Five years ago, Hurricane Nadine lasted for 22 days.

Starting off from Africa, Nadine made three loops in the unpopulated central Atlantic. It formed a track that looked like a long-tailed bird. It became a hurricane twice, a record 13 days apart.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How does the ocean help storms intensify?
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COMMENTS (21)
  • NellyT-buh
    9/22/2017 - 10:33 a.m.

    I think that the hurricane maria is less stronger I liked how they explained how hurricanes are formed.

  • aiyanaa-orv
    9/22/2017 - 11:19 a.m.

    I didn't know that we would be having another hurricane hitting the U.S. again! I didn't know that hurricanes could last for about 20 days. That's a long time to have hurricanes.

  • jazminew-orv
    9/22/2017 - 12:00 p.m.

    I think that the hurricanes are a horrible thing that has been happening lately. I will pray for the victims of Harvey, Irma, and the upcoming ones of Jose, maria and a few other ones.

  • Dominickd-dav1
    9/25/2017 - 08:54 a.m.

    In the article "Why some hurricanes linger" by Seth Borenstein in my response I agree that we should watch hurricanes so closely because if we don't then more people could die, another reason is people lives could be ruined by one storm. A third reason you could call an evacuation depending on how bad it was.

  • Reidk-dav
    9/25/2017 - 08:56 a.m.

    In this passage, we can tell that the warmer waters help a storm to intensify because the warm water acts as fuel for the storm. The cold water will help the storm get weaker because it does not fuel for the storm and makes the storm run out of gas.

  • Kelseyb-dav
    9/25/2017 - 01:36 p.m.

    In the article "Why Some Hurricanes Linger" is very interesting to me. Since it is hurricane season here in SC we have already had a hurricane. One reason I thought this article was interesting because the author stated "One almost lasted 28 days in 1899. Hurricane Ginger made it to 27 days in 1971. Five years ago, Hurricane Nadine lasted for 22 days.". To me that is super long for a hurricane to last! Imagine all of the damage those hurricanes did to those cities. Another reason is that I never knew that winds 10,000 feet high can decapitate a hurricane! Here is a piece of the article "High level winds are called shear and are a major issue. These winds at about 10,000 feet high can decapitate a hurricane.". A third reason is I thought that hurricanes never stopped until they went off into the ocean. Here is what I found "When storms go over land, they lose fuel and eventually disappear.". Even though hurricanes sometimes are very destructive, I think they are very interesting.

  • Edwardj-dav
    9/25/2017 - 01:45 p.m.

    In response to "Why some hurricanes linger ," I agree that hurricanes can last for a while. One reason I agree is that hurricanes can circle around the Atlantic ocean for days. Another reason is that in 1899 a hurricane lasted for 28 days. It says in the article "hurricane Nadine lasted for 27 days." A third reason Nadine started as storms in Africa. Nadine just kept going in circles in the Atlantic. Even though hurricanes last for a week, I think hurricanes could last a lot longer.

  • holdenj-orv
    9/25/2017 - 02:47 p.m.

    IRMA goodness, Hurricanes can lost a very long time

  • KalibH-pay
    9/27/2017 - 02:17 p.m.

    I though this article was explicit. The reason I thought this article was explicit because I thought the damage was outstanding. I knew that hurricanes can do a lot of damage but I didn't know it could do this much damage. This article was amazing.

  • VanessaP-pay
    9/27/2017 - 02:17 p.m.

    My comment of this article is that I really like it because i like all about hurricane how they form,the process when they start and they finish all that things of the hurricane how they became faster and more harsh? then mostly and how that hole become part of the hurricane and why they gray and like blue i don't know

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