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Inside a Hurricane

Teaching resources for grades K-12 to help you discuss hurricane season and explain how storms such as Hurricane Sandy develop.


PreK–K , 1–2 , 3–5 , 6–8 , 9–12

What is a hurricane?
A hurricane is a swirling storm measuring 60 to 1,000 miles in diameter that forms over warm ocean waters. Hurricanes start life as a cluster of strong thunderstorms, called a tropical disturbance or tropical wave, that is moving across the ocean. Atmospheric conditions must be just right to turn a tropical wave into a hurricane — less than five percent of them ever become full-blown hurricanes. Hurricane season for the the Atlantic begins June 1 and ends November 30. For the eastern Pacific, the hurricane season runs from May 15 to November 30.

How are hurricanes and typhoons different?
Hurricanes and typhoons are both large and sometimes intensely violent storm systems. In meteorological terms, both hurricanes and typhoons have maximum sustained winds of at least 120 km/h (75 mph). Atlantic and eastern Pacific storms are called hurricanes, which comes from the West Indian huracan, or "big wind." Western Pacific storms are called typhoons, from the Chinese taifun, which means "great wind."

How are the names for hurricanes chosen?
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) selects the names. They select six years worth of names for the Atlantic Basin (which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico) and repeat the names every six years. If there is a significant storm they retire its name. For example, in 2005, the name "Katrina" was retired. Once they retire a name, the WMO will meet again and pick replacement names.

Hurricane Resources From Around the Web

The National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center tracks storms and includes detailed maps and charts for active storms. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Hurricane site explains these severe storms and how to prepare for them. NASA's website shows photographs of the latest storms taken from space, as well as hurricane videos.

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Susan Cheyney

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