As peak hurricane season arrives, a recap on how tropical cyclones develop and strengthen

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Just about everything in life goes through stages, and tropical systems are no different.

As we are gearing up for the statistical peak of hurricane season on September 10, it’s a good time for a quick recap on how tropical cyclones develop and strengthen. 

For a tropical system to grow, you need the right ingredients. First and foremost, the ocean needs to be warm-at least 80°F.

As the winds move and come together over the warm ocean water, the air rises and storm clouds develop.

The winds above the system flow out, which in turn allows the air below to rise again. This process continues as showers and thunderstorms grow. A tropical disturbance is defined as an area with some organized convection, which can then develop into a tropical depression. 

A tropical depression has winds less than 38 mph and is assigned a number. If the tropical depression strengthens, it can become a tropical storm.

For that to happen, the system must have maximum sustained winds of 39 mph. Then the system receives a name that year’s list. 

As the cyclone continues to grow in strength, the winds will increase and the pressure will decrease. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.

Once the tropical storm has attained sustained winds of 74 mph, it is now a hurricane.

There are five categories on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The categories are broken down below: 

  • Category 1: 74 mph to 95 mph 
  • Category 2: 96 mph to 110 mph
  • Category 3: 111 mph to 129 mph 
  • Category 4: 130 mph to 156 mph 
  • Category 5: 157+ mph 

If the hurricane strengthens and has sustained winds of 111 mph, it is then considered a major hurricane. 

It’s already been quite an active season so far, and we’ve still got a ways to go in the Atlantic. The official Atlantic hurricane season runs through November 30.

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