Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Acronyms, Idioms, Wikipedia.


hurricane, tropical cyclone in which winds attain speeds greater than 74 mi (119 km) per hr. Wind speeds gust over 200 mi (320 km) per hr in some hurricanes. The term is often restricted to those storms occurring over the N Atlantic Ocean; the identical phenomenon occurring over the W Pacific Ocean is called a typhoon; around Australia and over the Indian Ocean, a tropical cyclone. Hurricanes have a life span of 1 to 30 days. They weaken and are transformed into extratropical cyclones after prolonged contact with the colder ocean waters of the middle latitudes, and they rapidly decay after moving over land areas.

Formation of Hurricanes

A cyclone that eventually reaches hurricane intensity first passes through two intermediate stages known as tropical depression and tropical storm. Hurricanes start over the oceans as a collection of storms in the tropics. The deepening low-pressure center takes in moist air and thermal energy from the ocean surface, convection lifts the air, and high pressure higher in the atmosphere pushes it outward. Rotation of the wind currents tends to spin the clouds into a tight curl; as the winds reach gale force, the depression becomes a tropical storm. The mature hurricane is nearly circularly symmetrical, and its influence often extends over an area 500 mi (805 km) in diameter.

As a result of the extremely low central pressure (often around 28.35 in./960 millibars but sometimes considerably lower, with a record 25.69 in./870 millibars registered in a 1979 NW Pacific typhoon) surface air spirals inward cyclonically (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere), converging on a circle of about 20 mi (30 km) diameter that surrounds the hurricane's “eye.” The circumference of this circle defines the so-called eye wall, where the inward-spiraling, moisture-laden air is forced aloft, causing condensation and the concomitant release of latent heat; after reaching altitudes of tens of thousands of feet above the surface, this air is finally expelled toward the storm's periphery and eventually creates the spiral bands of clouds easily identifiable in satellite photographs.

The upward velocity of the air and subsequent condensation make the eye wall the region of heaviest precipitation and highest clouds. Because the outward increase in pressure is greatest there, the eye wall is also the region of maximum wind speed. By contrast, the hurricane eye is almost calm, experiences little or no precipitation, and is often exposed to a clear sky. Temperatures in the eye are 10℉ to 15℉ (5℃–8℃) warmer than those of the surrounding air as a result of sinking currents at the hurricane's core.

Movement and Occurrence of Hurricanes

Hurricanes and typhoons usually move westward at about 10 mph (16 kph) during their early stages and then curve poleward as they approach the western boundaries of the oceans at 20° to 30° lat., although more complex tracks are common. In the Northern Hemisphere, incipient hurricanes usually form over the tropical Atlantic Ocean and mature as they drift westward; hurricanes also form off the west coast of Mexico and move northeastward from that area. In some cases, tropical cyclones that have transformed into extratropical cyclones reach Europe; in very rare instances, a tropical cyclone will make landfall in Europe. Between June and November, an average of six tropical storms per year mature into hurricanes along the east coast of North America, often over the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico. Two of these storms will typically become major hurricanes (categories 3 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). One to three hurricanes typically approach the U.S. coast annually, some changing their direction from west to northeast as they develop; as many as six hurricanes have struck the United States in one year. Hurricanes and typhoons of the N Pacific usually develop sometime between May and December; typhoons and tropical cyclones of the Southern Hemisphere favor the period from December through April; Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea tropical cyclones occur either between April and June or September and December, the times of the onset and retreat of the monsoon winds.

Damage Caused by Hurricanes

Flooding and high winds are the primary causes of hurricane-inflicted loss of life and property damage. The flooding results from the coastal storm surge of the ocean and the torrential rains, both of which accompany the storm. The Saffir-Simpson scale is the standard scale for rating the severity of a hurricane as measured by the damage it causes. It classifies hurricanes on a hierarchy from category 1 (minimal), through category 2 (moderate), category 3 (extensive), and category 4 (extreme), to category 5 (catastrophic). A supertyphoon is equivalent to a category 4 or 5 hurricane.

Only four category-5 storms have hit the United States since record-keeping began—the 1935 Labor Day hurricane, which devastated the Florida Keys, killing 600; Hurricane Camille, in 1969, which ravaged the Mississippi coast, killing 256; Andrew, in 1992, which leveled much of Homestead, Fla.; and Michael, in 2018, which devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle. Hurricane Dorian was a category-5 storm when it devastated the N Bahamas in 2019, and other Atlantic hurricanes have been category 5 at landfall in Central America and the Caribbean or while over water. Wilma, in 2005, was the most intense Atlantic tropical cyclone, with a record low pressure of 26.055 in. (882 millibars) and winds of 185 mi (297 km) per hr when it was over the W Carribean; Hurricane Allen, in 1980, had stronger winds (190 mi/305 km per hr) in the Yucatan Channel. The 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Dorian were the strongest hurricanes to come ashore.

Tropical cyclones are deadly and devastating storms. The 1970 Bay of Bengal tropical cyclone killed some 300,000 persons, mainly by drowning, and devastated Chittagong (now in Bangladesh); some 130,000 died when a cyclone struck Myanmar along the Andaman Sea in 2008. The deadliest U.S. hurricane was the 1900 Galveston storm, which killed 8,000–12,000 people and destroyed the city. It also was one of the deadliest Atlantic tropical storms. Hurricane Katrina (2005), one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, was economically the most destructive U.S. storm, devastating the SW Mississippi and SE Lousiana coasts, flooding New Orleans, killing some 1,200 people, and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Hurricane Ida (2021) was the second-most deadly storm to hit Louisiana, tying Hurricane Laura's (2020) record 150 mph maximum winds, the strongest on record for the state. Ida went on to create considerable damage in the greater NEw York City region due to flooding. Harvey (2017) dropped more than 60 in. (150 cm) of rain in some locations in Texas, with much of the rain falling after it was no longer a hurricane; it was the second costliest U.S. hurricane. Maria (2017) was the most deadly U.S. storm since the Galveston storm, killing an estimated 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, largely in its aftermath due to the storm's devastating effects on infrastructure and the medical system, and it also was the third costliest. Sandy (2012), although technically an extratropical cyclone and no longer a hurricane when it made landfall, was the fourth most destructive storm economically, affecting New Jersey, New York, and 15 other states. Hugo (1989) in South Carolina; Opal (1995), Charley, Ivan, and two others (2004), and Irma (2017) in Florida; and Rita (2005) and Ike (2008) in Louisiana and Texas also caused billions of dollars of damage; earlier devastating storm include the Great Miami hurricane of 1926, the Lake Okeechobee hurricane of 1928, and the Great New England hurricane of 1938. Tropical storms and weak or downgraded hurricanes also can cause major flooding and damage, as did Agnes (1972), Allison (2001), Harvey, and Imelda (2019).

To decrease devastation and casualties several unsuccessful programs studied ways to “defuse” hurricanes in their developing stages; more recent hurricane damage-mitigation steps have included better warning systems involving real-time satellite imagery. A hurricane watch is issued when there is a threat of hurricane conditions within 24–36 hours. A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions (winds greater than 74 mph/119 kph or dangerously high water and rough seas) are expected in 24 hours or less.


See B. Tufty, One Thousand One Questions Answered about Hurricanes, Tornados, and Other Natural Air Disasters (1987); R. A. Pielke, The Hurricane (1990); J. Barnes, Florida's Hurricane History (1998); J. Barnes, North Carolina's Hurricane History (1998); D. Longshore, Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones (1998); E. Larson, Isaac's Storm (1999).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a destructive wind of long duration, with a velocity exceeding 30 m/sec; it measures 12 on the Beaufort scale. Tropical cyclones, especially those arising in the Caribbean Sea, are also called hurricanes.


Nalivkin, D. V. Uragany, buri i smerchi. Moscow, 1969.
Shuleikin, V. V. “Zavisimost’ mezhdu moshchnost’iu tropicheskogo uragana i temperaturoi podstilaiushchei poverkhnosti okeana.” Izv. AN SSSR: Fizika atmosfery i okeana, vol. 6, no. 12, 1970.
Shuleikin, V. V. “Razvitie i zatukhanie tropicheskogo uragana v razlichnykh teplovykh usloviiakh.” Izv. AN SSSR: Fizika atmosfery i okeana, vol. 8, no. 1, 1972.
Shuleikin, V. V. “K raschetu traektorii tropicheskikh uraganov.” Izv. AN SSSR: Fizika atmosfery i okeana, vol. 9, no. 12, 1973.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A tropical cyclone of great intensity; any wind reaching a speed of more than 73 miles per hour (117 kilometers per hour) is said to have hurricane force.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


hurricaneclick for a larger image
Darkened portions indicate where hurricanes occur around the world during December–April (Northern Hemisphere) and April–August (Southern Hemisphere)
hurricaneclick for a larger image
Tropical revolving storms in the North and eastern North Pacific with wind speeds exceeding 64 knots.
An Illustrated Dictionary of Aviation Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved


1. a severe, often destructive storm, esp a tropical cyclone
a. a wind of force 12 or above on the Beaufort scale
b. (as modifier): a wind of hurricane force
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


An earlier set of utilities from McAfee that made a Windows PC faster. It provided such functions as memory compression, print spooling and disk file relocation.
Copyright © 1981-2019 by The Computer Language Company Inc. All Rights reserved. THIS DEFINITION IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. All other reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher.


Dreaming about hurricanes usually suggests that the dreamer is going through sudden and unpleasant changes in his life. It indicates that there is an emotional storm in the dreamer’s life or on the horizon. Old dream interpretation books consider hurricane dreams to be dreams of warning and recommend that the dreamer does not take any unnecessary risks. Additionally, if you are uncertain about doing something, don’t do anything at all!
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
The official 2011 hurricane season began on June 1 and ended on Nov.
The Hurricane Hunter crew entered the eye of Hurricane Alex in the WC-130J at 5,000 feet when the storm was 130 miles off Mexico's coast.
The most powerful hurricanes have wind speeds of up to 190 mph and the biggest are 1,000 miles across.
The Gulf Opportunity Zone Act extends these special rules to qualified Hurricane Rita individuals and qualified Hurricane Wilma individuals.
Often camps made community connections to increase the outreach to hurricane victims.
When Hurricane Katrina hit its wallboard-manufacturing plant in Westwego, La., in Jefferson Parish, the facility was not severely damaged from flooding, being situated just across the river from New Orleans (where the levees broke).
NOAA reviews record-setting 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.
Larry Lawrence represented the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command during the Hurricane Relief from the Sea conference.
He says, "I was running computer simulations on hurricane Bonnie in the late 1990s, and adjusted it for Cordani's idea.
Hurricane Katrina has so visibly reinforced the impact and need for addressing health disparities (Atkins and May 2005).
Flying in the Eye of a Hurricane http://www.nationalgeographic .com/ngkids/0308/hurricane/
In addition to cycles in hurricane activity and warming temperatures, the coastline marshes of the Mississippi Delta that once afforded the coast some protection have been subsiding for decades, mainly because water and oil have been pumped out of the ground.