Learn the facts about hurricane season — what is it, when does it happen, where does it happen, and why do hurricanes only form in certain locations during certain times of the year.
What is Hurricane Season?
Like most weather phenomena, hurricanes, which are a tropical cyclone or severe tropical storm, tend to form under a specific set of physical conditions. Given that hurricanes form in oceans, which have variable water temperatures depending on the time of year and geographic location, it stands to reason that there would only be certain times of the year when water temperature and prevailing weather patterns would be favorable for the development of hurricanes.
Much like the human body requires homeostasis in order to function properly, hurricanes require specific water temperature conditions and strong rotating winds in order to develop and flourish. These ideal conditions only really exist within 5 to 15 latitudinal degrees north and south of the equator, from May to November.
We collectively call these months during which hurricanes can form hurricane season.
When is Hurricane Season?
As the band the Byrds (and the Book of Ecclesiastes) tell us, ‘To everything, there is a season…’ and hurricanes are no exception.
Whether you are dealing with the Atlantic or Pacific basins, there is a specific season, or time of year, that hurricanes can occur. The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1, and runs through November 30. The Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 also until November 30.It should be noted that while we won’t address them in this lesson, there are separate seasons for western and southern Pacific hurricanes, which are commonly referred to as typhoons. Approximately 97% of hurricanes form within the designated season, but occasionally, we do see hurricanes forming in the ‘off season.’ Most of these off-season storms tend to only be tropical depressions or tropical storms, as the temperature conditions aren’t usually ideal at that time to produce fully developed hurricanes. In recent years, only Tropical Storm Arthur, in May 2008, did much damage.
Where Do Hurricanes Form?
According to Professor Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘In Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen.’ It isn’t often that Broadway musicals are scientifically accurate, but in this case, the professor of linguistics is correct. Hurricanes require warm water temperatures, a contrast in temperature between the sea surface and the air mass above it, and curving winds. These requirements can only be met during the months mentioned in the previous section (summer time in the northern hemisphere tends to produce the warmest water conditions of the year), in regions approximately 5 to 15 latitudinal degrees north and south of the equator.
The warm, tropical waters of the equatorial regions aren’t the only reason for the stringent geographic location requirement. Given the curvature of the Earth, it is only in these regions that the curvature of the winds is sufficient enough to produce the type of rotating, cyclonic weather systems that become hurricanes.
Why is There a Hurricane Season?
As mentioned in the previous sections, we need warm waters, a difference in temperature between the air mass above and the water below, rotating winds, and be within a few degrees of the equator for a hurricane to develop. But why do they only form during this one specific season? The reason is simple. Hurricanes develop and thrive in the warmest possible water, ideally above 80 degrees Fahrenheit or more to form, and slightly less than that to sustain them as they move away from the equatorial regions.We have probably all seen the television coverage of some Category 3 or 4 hurricane barreling toward the Atlantic coast of the United States, only to fizzle out and quickly dissipate as soon as it hits the waters off the coast of the Carolinas or Virginia.
The death of the hurricane is being caused by the Atlantic water temperatures becoming increasingly cooler as the storm tracks further north.Hurricanes can, theoretically, develop at any time during that season, but traditionally, the peak of the season, when the most hurricanes form, tends to be in the late summer months of August and September. It is during this time of year when the north Atlantic and eastern Pacific waters are at their warmest, and thus most able to support the development and progression of a tropical storm system.
Hurricane season in the Atlantic basin runs from June 1 to November 30, and in the eastern Pacific basin from May 15 to November 30.
During this time, storms develop between 5 and 15 latitudinal degrees north and south of the equator, fueled by curving winds and warm tropical waters. Hurricanes can only form in that specific region, only during the summer months when the waters north of the equatorial regions are at their warmest and thereby able to sustain the hurricanes as they progress north. The peak of the season is the late summer months of August and September.