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Dial-an-Expert Tip Sheet: Hurricanes

August 26, 1996
Edouard, Fran, Gustav, and Hortense could become household names during the next month, as the Atlantic hurricane season will be at its peak from late August through late September. To help you file stories on tropical cyclones, here are the names and telephone numbers of hurricane experts at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), or member universities of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). UCAR manages NCAR under sponsorship of the National Science Foundation. Also included are the locations of related World Wide Web sites and background information on hurricanes.

Hurricane experts

Roger Pielke, Jr.
NCAR Environmental and Societal Impacts Group
Specialty: Hurricane impacts and related societal factors. A political scientist, Pielke has completed an in-depth study of the effects in South Florida from 1992's devastating Hurricane Andrew and the societal vulnerability of the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts to future hurricanes.

Robert Gall
Director, NCAR Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division
Specialty: Mesoscale analysis of tropical systems. Through radar analysis of Hurricanes Andrew and Hugo, Gall has uncovered fine-scale bands that spiral around the center of hurricanes. These bands, 100-150 kilometers long but separated by intervals of only a few kilometers, could be related to small-scale wind peaks that cause some of a hurricane's worst damage.

Chris Landsea
NOAA Hurricane Research Division
Specialty: Seasonal hurricane forecasting and hurricane climatology. Landsea, a collaborator with hurricane forecaster William Gray (Colorado State University), has studied patterns of hurricane occurrence along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts over the past century and is the author of a frequently-asked-questions document on the World Wide Web (see below).

Kerry Emanuel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Meteorology
Specialty: Hurricane modeling. Emanuel has used computer models to evaluate the potential risk of more severe hurricanes due to global climate change and (with NCAR's Richard Rotunno) explored a theory of extremely intense "hypercanes" that might have been induced by prehistoric meteors striking the earth's oceans.

Jay Baker
Florida State University, Department of Geography
Specialty: Human response to hurricanes, including evacuations. Through on-site visits and interviews after hurricanes, Baker has examined how people respond to warnings and evacuation orders. He also has studied how emergency managers use forecasts and other information to implement evacuation plans.

Related sites on the World Wide Web

NOAA Tropical Prediction Center (TPC)
This site includes official outlooks, climatology, and statistics on hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions. TPC includes the National Hurricane Center, which issues hurricane watches and warnings and calculates official projections of storm tracks.

CSU Tropical Meteorology Project
This site, from Colorado State University, includes --the latest seasonal outlooks from CSU professor William Gray --a comprehensive set of answers to frequently asked questions about hurricanes and other tropical cyclones, compiled by Chris Landsea.

FSU Atlantic Hurricane Season Summary
Maintained by Florida State University's meteorology department, this site offers a concise look at the 1996 hurricane season, with storm-by-storm links, as well as access to current warnings, satellite images, and reconnaissance reports.

Atlantic Tropical Weather Center
This privately maintained site includes a wealth of links to Web-based hurricane information. Because popular Web sites often become busy and thus difficult to access when a major hurricane approaches, the author includes several alternate addresses for frequently sought items, such as the latest storm intensities and projected tracks.

Background information on hurricanes

What is a hurricane?

Each year a number of tropical disturbances-centers of low pressure-move westward across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Some of these become depressions, more organized disturbances with sustained winds of up to 38 miles per hour (61 kilometers per hour). If the winds become stronger, the system becomes a tropical storm and is given a name. If the winds reach 74 mph (119 km/hr), the storm is reclassified as a hurricane (other names, such as typhoon, are used outside of the Atlantic). Eventually, most of these systems either strike land and quickly weaken or recurve over the ocean, moving north and east as they become caught up in the midlatitude westerly winds and lose their tropical characteristics.

What's the difference between a hurricane and a tornado?

Tornadoes are spawned by thunderstorms, while hurricanes are made up of a number of showers and thunderstorms (which can themselves spawn tornadoes upon landfall). Hurricanes gather energy from the warmth of the summertime ocean. A hurricane's eye is as wide as 10 to 15 miles (16-24 km) and the winds around it are as strong as 150-200 mph (240-320 km/hr). The hurricane circulation can be hundreds of miles across. Even the largest tornadoes are only about a mile across, although their winds can sometimes approach 300 mph (480 km/hr). Tropical storms can survive for weeks, while most tornadoes exist for much less than an hour.

How many tropical systems occur on average each year?

The tropical Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico-the sources of U.S. hurricanes-produce an average of nine named storms per year, with around six of those becoming hurricanes and two of those becoming intense hurricanes (those with sustained surface winds exceeding 110 mph or 177 km/hr). Last year, 1995, was the second busiest Atlantic/Gulf season on record, with 19 named storms. Globally, an average of 85 tropical storms and 45 hurricanes/typhoons form per year.

What are the storm names for this year and upcoming years?

Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms have been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center and now maintained and updated by Region 6 of the World Meteorological Organization. The lists featured only women's names until 1979. There are six lists used in rotation, with the names of the most severe hurricanes (such as 1992's Andrew) retired permanently. Here are the lists for 1996-1998:

1996          1997          1998

Arthur        Ana           Alex
Bertha        Bill          Bonnie
Cesar         Claudette     Charley
Dolly         Danny         Danielle
Edouard       Erika         Earl
Fran          Fabian        Frances
Gustav        Grace         Georges
Hortense      Henri         Hermine
Isidore       Isabel        Ivan
Josephine     Juan          Jeanne
Kyle          Kate          Karl
Lili          Larry         Lisa
Marco         Mindy         Mitch
Nana          Nicholas      Nicole
Omar          Odette        Otto
Paloma        Peter         Paula
Rene          Rose          Richard
Sally         Sam           Shary
Teddy         Teresa        Tomas
Vicky         Victor        Virginie
Wilfred       Wanda         Walter

For further background information on hurricanes, check the frequently-asked-questions file compiled by Chris Landsea on the World Wide Web (see listing above).

-The End-

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Bob Henson
UCAR Communications
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Telephone: (303) 497-8605
Fax: (303) 497-8610
E-mail: bhenson@ucar.edu

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Jacque Marshall <jacque@ucar.edu>
Last modified: Mon 22 July 1996