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Hurricane warning!

Palm trees being blown by a tropical rain storm

We’ve all seen spiralling cartoon and movie hurricanes sending up animals, cars and heavy objects flying, but how do these phenomena actually start?

Hurricanes form off the coast of Africa when warm, moist air rises from the sea and meets cooler air and condenses into storm clouds. This makes room for more warm air from the sea and leads to a spiralling effect, sucking up more air and getting hotter and bigger as it starts to move across the ocean.

Right in the middle is the eye which stays relatively calm. If children want to know what the eye looks like, they can try a small experiment: at a sink, fill it half up with water, then pull the plug. The water will start to rotate around, and a hollow of air will form in the middle of the swirling water. That’s like the eye, and it’s a similar way that the hurricanes spiral round.

Storm warning sign

Storm warning sign

Some places, such as North and Central America and countries around the Pacific, are at risk from hurricanes during part of the year. Only this year, Hurricane Isaac caused severe flooding in Louisiana where thousands of residents had to evacuate their homes. For the people that live there, this means that a lot of time is spent tracking hurricanes, and if a hurricane or tropical storm is approaching, they need to board up their homes, get food and water supplies in to ride out the storm. Sometimes they may even have to evacuate to a safer area.

Britain is pretty safe from tropical weather because hurricanes normally lose their strength by the time they reach our shores. But sometimes we feel the after effects. In 1987, weather reporter Michael Fish infamously said to a caller to the BBC who reported an approaching hurricane, telling his viewers, ‘Don’t worry, there isn’t, but having said that, actually, the weather will become very windy.’ It was the worst storm in 300 years.

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