A Guide to Natural Disasters: Hurricanes

By Michelle Dong

Everyone has heard of the recent hurricanes, be it through the news, or the sports fundraisers around HB. But what exactly is a hurricane?


To start off, the formal definition from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) of a tropical cyclone is “a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters.” Although all hurricanes are tropical cyclones, not all tropical cyclones are hurricanes. Tropical cyclones are classified based on their wind speeds as tropical depression (<38 mph), tropical storm (39-73 mph), hurricane (74+ mph), or major hurricane (111+ mph). Hurricanes themselves are categorized using the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Category 1: 74-95 mph; faster than a cheetah, very dangerous winds that will produce some damage (large branches of trees will snap, power outages could last several days)

Category 2: 96-110 mph; slightly faster than a baseball pitcher’s fastball, extremely dangerous winds that will cause extensive damage (many trees will snap, near-total power loss lasting up to weeks)

Category 3 (major): 111-129 mph; about the serving speed of most pro tennis players, devastating damage will occur (electricity and water will be unavailable from several days to weeks after the storm passes)

Category 4 (major): 130-156 mph; faster than the fastest rollercoaster in the world, catastrophic damage will occur (fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas, power outages lasting from weeks up to months, most of area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months)

Category 5 (major): 157+ mph; speed of a high-speed train, catastrophic damage will occur (walls of homes will collapse, power outages and will be uninhabitable for weeks or months)

2017 HURRICANE SEASON: Major hurricanes

From August 17th to September 3rd, a Category 4 hurricane with record-breaking rainfall of 60.58 inches near Nederland, Texas in the span of a week named Hurricane Harvey wrecked the Texas Gulf Coast. For more information, click here.


Hurricane Irma lasted from August 30th to September 16th and set the record for the most intense storm for the longest period of time, being one of five hurricanes with wind speeds of 185 mph or greater. The storm sustained a speed of 185 mph for 37 hours, striking the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean in that time period. Power outages in Florida and the complete destruction of buildings in Cuba were results of this Category 5 hurricane. To learn more, click here.


Shortly after the start of Hurricane Irma was Hurricane Jose, classified as a Category 4 that luckily did not strike land. It is currently the longest-lived hurricane of the Atlantic Hurricane season, lasting from September 5th to the 26th. More information about Jose can be found here.


Hurricane Maria has caused major devastation as a Category 5 hurricane in the Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands, and especially Puerto Rico. Almost all of the infrastructure on Puerto Rico has been destroyed as a result of directly hitting the island for more than 30 hours. Lasting from September 16th to October 3rd, there are still thousands without access to water, food, and other basic necessities. To learn more about the hurricane, click here.


Why and what you can do to help

It is typically very uncommon for there to be back-to-back hurricanes as we have seen in the past two months. Meteorologists assert that possible factors contributing to such an active hurricane season include changes in ocean weather pattern, rising temperatures, high pressure, and the lack of an El Niño this year. NPR gives a list of organizations and charities that you can donate to in order help those effected by the recent natural disasters, linked here. The destruction from hurricanes have left thousands without shelter and basic supplies such as food and water. It takes only hours to destroy they consider home, but months to reestablish normality.