What would you think if you heard Opal, Andrew, Katrina, Hugo, Camille and Irene were coming to town? Who are they? Long-lost relatives flying in for a family reunion?

Not quite! In fact, they’re not even people at all. They’re hurricanes! Let’s find out how these super storms are born.

Each year, as summer turns to fall, hurricanes begin to appear. These large storms usually occur in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico or the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Sometimes people think hurricanes are like big tornadoes. They’re actually quite different, though.

While a tornado might cover a mile or two of ground, hurricanes are huge tropical storms that can sometimes be as large as 600 miles across. If you look at a map of the United States, you’ll see that a hurricane that large would stretch from Philadelphia to Indianapolis!

Tornadoes also usually last no more than a few minutes. Hurricanes, however, can last more than a week because they travel slowly at speeds of only 10 to 20 miles per hour as they cross the ocean.

Hurricanes are defined by their extremely strong winds that can blow from 75 to 200 miles per hour. Before a storm becomes a hurricane, it starts out as a tropical storm. Tropical storms have wind speeds between 39 and 74 miles per hour.

Even though these storms are not yet hurricanes, they can still cause damage and flooding. Once a tropical storm’s wind speeds reach or exceed 75 miles per hour, the storm becomes classified as a hurricane.

Not all tropical storms become hurricanes. Wonder why? The key ingredient to forming a hurricane is warm water.

During the warmer months of hurricane season, the waters in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are the perfect temperature to create hurricanes. As warm, moist air rises from the water into the atmosphere, it creates an area of low pressure underneath.

This causes air from the surrounding areas to flow into the low pressure area. Eventually this air becomes heated and rises into the atmosphere, and the cycle repeats itself.

In this way, hurricanes are kind of like a big engine with a constant supply of intake and exhaust. The “intake” is the cooler air that keeps the cycle going. The “exhaust” is the warm air rising into the atmosphere.

As this cycle continues, clouds and storms form, creating a giant, spinning storm.

When you look at satellite images of a hurricane, you may notice a hole at the center of the storm. This hole is called the “eye” of the hurricane.

As the eye passes over land, the weather becomes very calm. Once the eye passes, though, the winds begin again as the second part of the storm passes over.

Unfortunately, there is no way to stop a hurricane. They do tend to lose strength once they move over land.

Without warm ocean water to continue fueling them, hurricanes will eventually diminish in size and speed until they disappear.


48 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (37 votes, avg. 3.92 out of 5)
    • Happy Friday, Kerrick Elementary School 2nd/EBD classroom! If you want to learn even MORE about hurricanes, you can visit these GREAT resources from Thinkfinity: http://thinkfinity.org/hurricanes.

      Thank you for all the awesome comments you left us this week! We can’t wait for next week! :-)

  1. We are amazed that a hurricane can be 600 miles wide and that the winds can go up to 200 miles per hour. We are glad we live in Ohio! Thank you for the wonder!

    • Thank YOU for leaving us another AMAZING comment, The Beach (Mrs. Guerin’s 2nd Grade Class), and for letting us know some of the things you learned today! We hope you all have a nice weekend! :-)

  2. Hi wonderopolis! Its me again! :) I liked this hurricane article, it reminded me of hurricane Irene which went up into New York.

    • Welcome back to Wonderopolis, Abby S! Hurricane Irene got us WONDERing about how we could help our friends understand hurricanes a little better. That’s where the idea for this Wonder of the Day® came from! Thank you for leaving us another AWESOME comment! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know you liked this Wonder of the Day®, Bri! We see you are a student of the WONDERful Mrs. Caplin! She is a really inspiring person and we appreciate that she encourages her students to WONDER! :-)

  3. Hi Bri and Abby-what fun to see you back commenting on Wonderopolis as 6th graders. I never knew the winds blew that intensely. I liked seeing the pictures of the “eye of the storm.” Great Wonder for current events this week!

    • Thank you for checking in today, Mrs. Caplin! We also think it is AWESOME that past “MC” students are still visiting Wonderopolis and letting us know what they learned from and liked about the Wonders! :-)

  4. I think hurricanes are scary. Vicious winds, torrential rain and flooding.
    Sounds like a massive storm to me. A hurricane is like a big tornado. A hurricane is a huge tropical storm that can sometimes be as large as 600 miles across. If you look at a map of the United States, you can see that a hurricane that large would stretch from Philadelphia to Indianapolis!!!! Wow, what an awesome topic to learn about!!!! : )

    • Thanks so much for this WONDERful comment, Alexandra! We can tell you learned a LOT from exploring this Wonder of the Day®! Thanks for sharing what you learned! :-)

  5. This message is for Mrs. Caplin. This is your former student, Nick, from 2009-10. I was watching this video checking my sister’s homework and this looks like a fun website.

    • Wow! You were really lucky to have Mrs. Caplin as your teacher, Nicholas! She is a GREAT friend of Wonderopolis! Thanks for visiting with your sister today and for leaving Mrs. Caplin a message…we’ll make sure she gets it! :-)

    • That makes us really happy to hear, Jim! Thank you for letting us know how much you like Wonderopolis! We hope your friends like visiting us, too! :-)

    • Hello, Jonah! Thanks for picking this Wonder of the Day® to explore! We sure hope you liked it and that you learned some new facts about hurricanes! :-)

    • That’s the kind of thing we REALLY like to hear from our Wonder Friends, Jonah! We’re SUPER glad you learned a lot of stuff by exploring this Wonder! :-)

    • Well, we think YOU are awesome for leaving us another GREAT comment on this Wonder about hurricanes, Jonah…THANK YOU! :-)

  6. I really like weather so this topic really, really interested me. Thank You!!! I learned a lot after reading this article. I learned that the key ingredient for a hurricane is warm water. Another thing I learned is that the hole of a hurricane is actually the eye of the hurricane where a lot of severe damage occurs. I learned 2 vocabulary words. Intake is the cooler air that keeps the cycle going on. Exhaust is the warm air rising into the atmosphere. One thing that I still have a question about is “How Many hurricanes occur/happen every day? Every Year? Thank you for this wonderful topic and article.

    • Hello, Team Unger 3! Thanks for visiting this Wonder of the Day® about hurricanes and sharing all the cool things you learned! We’ll both have to do some more WONDERing about the average number of hurricanes per day and year! :-)

  7. This is my first time visiting Wonderopolis. Thanks for the video concerning hurricanes, and useful information including vocabulary. For a teacher, the information is great!

    • We are super excited to hear that you’ve discovered the fun of Wonderopolis, Carrie! Thanks for posting your comment and interest in the videos and vocabulary sections! We hope to Wonder with you and your students this year, too!

      Please take a look at the six WONDERful educators who are part of our 2012 Wonder Year: http://wonderopolis.org/wonderyear/
      They have great blogs and suggestions for introducing Wonderopolis into the classroom. You can find them on Facebook and twitter, too! :)

  8. Hey WONDEROPOLIS!! I have been fascinated with this article and I am actually reading it because I think hurricanes are interesting and also due to the fact that hurricane sandy is coming here to New York. Scared…yet prepared… :D

    • Hey Wonder Friend Ashley, we are so glad that you enjoyed WONDERing about hurricanes with us. We sure hope you, your family and your friends are safe and sound in New York. We are glad to hear that you’re prepared– that an important part of dealing with a hurricane. We will be thinking of you– stay safe! :)

  9. What was the guy talking about I could not understand the guy could you translate what he was saying?

    Thanks so much I need to know but could you translate it in German please?

    • Hi there, Maddy! The Wonder video is a bit difficult to hear, but we can’t take credit for it (so we’re sorry to report, but we can’t translate it). We are glad you’re WONDERing about hurricanes with us today! :-)

    • Good Morning, Micah and Evan! We hope crazy means that you thought this Wonder was crazy WONDERful! ;-) You’re right, though. Hurricanes can be very crazy, and even scary! Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Wonder Friends!

  10. We are learning about harmful winds in science and this article made us think and wonder a lot! We were very interested in the eye and that the hurricane loses strength on land. We are still wondering how does the water rise? Can hurricanes go up into space? Is a hurricane like a tornado? How do they spin? Is it still dangerous inside the eye? Can a hurricane cause a flood? How do you stay safe if there is a hurricane?

    • Wow, these are all excellent questions, Washington SK! We do know that hurricanes can cause water to rise and can cause flooding. Hurricanes usually dump a lot of rain on the ground. One main difference between a hurricane and a tornado is that tornadoes are unpredictable. We usually know days, and sometimes weeks in advance when a hurricane is going to hit. So, we do have time to evacuate and prepare. The eye of a hurricane is actually very calm. Although, it may be hard to breathe, due to the pressure of the storm. Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

  11. lets make this simple, first, all your questions a five year old could answer with common sense. 2ent, nothing you post or ask makes sense, like your question “is a football really made out of pig skin?” it does not make senesce to post this because of corse it is durp, EVERYBUDY in the gosh dang hole world knows that. and 3erd, nobody is learning anything because anybody can answer any of your stupid questions in five sec. so there you have it your site, is stupid and I hate it.

    • Hi, Lola. Thanks for your honest feedback about Wonderopolis and our Wonders of the Day. It’s important to keep in mind that we were all born not knowing anything about the world around us. We’ve all had to WONDER about and learn everything we know, and we each learn different things at different times in our lives. Something that may seem like common sense to you could be not-so-common to someone else who has never encountered that same thing before. We gear our Wonder questions to learners of all ages, so sometimes there are easier questions to answer and sometimes there are more complex questions to answer. We have more than 1300 Wonders of the Day, so we hope you can find some Wonders that are about things you’re interested in. Just use the Search field at the top right side of our website to search for topics – you’re sure to find something interesting! Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lola! :)

  12. I have been trying to learn about hurricanes, so I came to Wonderopolis! The video was very interesting! I’m WONDERing, how do hurricanes affect the atmosphere?
    Thank You!
    -E Abigail

    • Welcome back, E Abigail! We are glad you found what you were WONDERing about on WONDERopolis. That’s why we are here! We encourage you to do more research about hurricanes and the atmosphere at your library. Hurricanes impact our environment in many ways, from affecting animal habitats to destruction from the hurricane. Always keep WONDERing, E Abigail! :)

  13. Why do you hate the site? It is awesome! Everyone WONDERs something in their life, so they decide to come here! It is very helpful!

  14. How do hurricanes get their names?
    Thank You Wonderopolis! (:
    This is my favorite website for research! Everything I need is right here!

  15. Can global warming cause hurricanes? I was thinking, maybe global warming heats up the ocean and makes it warm enough for hurricanes to form.


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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a hurricane?
  • How big can hurricanes get?
  • What is the key ingredient of a hurricane?

Wonder Gallery

hurricane_shutterstock_4906567Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Visit the National Hurricane Center to keep an eye out for hurricanes and tropical storms in real-time. You may even spot a few areas where tropical storms are brewing.

Do you live in an area that might be impacted by hurricanes occasionally? In the United States, the areas most at-risk for hurricanes include the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas, from Texas to Maine.

U.S. territories in the Caribbean, as well as tropical areas in the western Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa, are also vulnerable to hurricanes.

If you find yourself in the path of a hurricane, here are some safety tips to keep in mind.

BEFORE a hurricane:

  • Develop a disaster plan with your family. Make sure you consider your pets, too!
  • Listen to weather reports, and follow all evacuation orders from local law enforcement.
  • Prepare a hurricane disaster kit.

DURING a hurricane:

  • Always stay indoors! Hurricane winds make being outside extremely dangerous.
  • Stay away from low areas likely to flood.
  • If your home isn’t on high ground, go to a shelter.

AFTER a hurricane:

  • Stay inside until it is safe to come out.
  • Check on friends and neighbors, and help out wherever you can.
  • Stay away from flooded areas, and don’t drink tap water until local officials say it’s safe to do so.


Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Xpeditions’ The Eye of the Hurricane lesson to learn more about the structure of a hurricane, particularly the eye.


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