Here are the answers to hurricane questions submitted by Sun-Sentinel.com readers.
You can submit your own question,
Q: In order to not overload a generator, it seems necessary to keep track of how many watts your home is using. Approximately how many watts does an in ground pool's pump use? Kathleen (Cooper City)
A: It is very important to keep track of how many watts your pump uses. It is difficult to tell without knowing how many horsepower the pump is, without knowing the size of the pool, etc. It has been reported that a 3/4 horsepower pump would use about 800 watts and a two horsepower pump would use upwards of 2000 watts. In most of these publications, I have seen the two hp model called "grossly oversized" for most backyard in ground pools, so yours may be smaller. Please contact your manufacturer for more information about your specific pump. JF, 07/24
Q: I would like to know the starting and running wattage of my refrigerator so I can buy a proper size generator. - Rose R. (Delray Beach)
A: It is difficult to find the wattage of your specific refrigerator with the information that you gave me. Ohm's law says that the volts multiplied by the amps gives the wattage, so if you had that information, you could find out the running wattage of the refrigerator. Of course, the amps depend on the size of the refrigerator as well as the amount of work it needs to do to run at whatever temperature it is set at.
The guideline I have found repeatedly, with regards to refrigerators, is that the typical running wattage of is 700 watts, and the typical starting wattage is 2200 watts. This is for a normal, full-size refrigerator that is about 16 cubic feet. Keep in mind that you will have to have a generator that is prepared for all of your appliances to turn on at the same time (air conditioners, refrigerators, and other devices that are automatic) so your generator should be able to handle the maximum surge value.
Further information on generators can be found JF, 07/24
Q: Are the safety films for windows effective, or do they only prevent shattering? I also heard they can cause the glass to break in large pieces, creating daggers. John (Boca Raton)
A: According to the government's Hurricane Research Division, safety films are not viable substitutes for shutters. They serve only to protect the glass in the window, and not the window frame. Therefore, the frame is under pressure and the entire frame could blow out.
Additionally, the films protect the glass and keep it from flying out, but they do not prevent breakage. Therefore, if the entire window does fail, the protected shards of glass could fly out in larger pieces, creating the dagger scenario.
If at all possible, use shutters on all of your windows. JF, 07/24
Q: How does a hurricane form? Various
A: There are several important things to know about hurricane formation. Let's start with the various steps that allow a hurricane to grow, and then we can talk about some of the conditions that promote hurricane growth.
Tropical cyclones begin formation over the warm waters of the tropics. Disturbances that eventually become hurricanes grow due to warm, moist air rising from the surface.
As the warm air rises, water vapor (the gas form of the water molecule) begins to condense and form water droplets and storm clouds. The process of condensation releases head, which then warms the air above it. This air begins to rise, and more warm air from the ocean surface begins to rise.
This process creates a surface circulation around a low-pressure center and higher pressures aloft. This cycle continues while the hurricane is over the warm waters, forming a heat engine that allows the hurricane to feed and grow.
The high-pressure aloft spins opposite of the surface circulation and will facilitate the outflow of the created clouds tops and rising air near a height of six miles (30,000 feet). This then allows more air into the system at the lower levels and the cycle repeats itself while the conditions are ideal for growth.
There are four main factors that influence whether a hurricane can form.
One is the sea surface temperature, and whether or not there is enough energy to be drawn from the oceans. The normal threshold for hurricane formation is around 27 degrees Celsius, or 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The second is whether the storm is far enough away from the Equator to have the necessary influence from the Earth's rotation to induce the spinning and rotation of the hurricane that allows for the flow process described above.
The third factor is whether there is a difference between the pressure at the surface and the pressure aloft, which as described above allows for the storm to expand and grow as new air is pumped into the cycle.
The final factor is lack of wind shear, which is the gradient of the winds with height. A hurricane cannot form if there is interference from winds whipping in all directions. - JF, 07/14
Q: How do I get my name nominated for a future storm? - Deon R. (Lincoln, NE)
A: Hurricane names are picked very carefully by the World Meteorological Organization to be added to a list when there is cause for replacement from a particularly destructive storm. In that case, the countries that were most heavily affected by the storm submit a replacement name. According to the National Hurricane Center, they have a very large list of names to be submitted in case there is a need for a replacement name due to a storm hitting the United States, and they are not taking suggestions. - JF, 07/14
Q: What factors effect how strong and how far south the Bermuda High extends? Are the same factors in place that influenced the Bermuda High in 2004 and 2005? Adam S. (Port Saint Lucie)
A: The Bermuda High is a semi-permanent fixture in the Atlantic Ocean that is influenced by its interactions with other systems on that large scale, particularly low-pressure cyclones. These systems can push on the high, either changing its shape or pushing it in one direction or the other. Though they don't make what would appear to be a large impact, the subtle changes in location and shape can influence the path of hurricanes significantly. Both the mesoscale (shorter, more localized events) and the synoptic scale (lengthier, more global events) can have influences on the Bermuda High. Most tropical cyclones and the Bermuda High are considered to be on the synoptic scale.
Unfortunately, at this time, researchers still are not sure what climatological factors influence the strength of the Bermuda High from year to year, if at all. JF, 07/07
Q: I have heard a few people say that during a hurricane they opened windows to equalize the pressure in the house. My argument was that it was not the right thing to do and even though it seemed to release the pressure it could have still taken off their roof. Who is right? - Nancy C. (Fort Lauderdale)
A: The idea of opening windows to release pressure during a hurricane has been around for awhile, and is faulty reasoning. The difference in pressure between the outside and the inside of the house will not be enough to cause any significant problems.
The problem is that winds that would enter through an open window would eventually run into part of the structure, as winds do not blow in a straight line (and it is unlikely every window has a straight line exit point anyway). Because of this, these winds could blow directly into a weak point in a ceiling or a wall, causing much more damage to the home than if the windows were kept closed. JF, 07/07
Q: I've just recently moved from Nebraska to Hawaii and I was wondering how much of a threat hurricanes are to the Hawaiian islands? I haven't heard much about the islands being hit in the last few years. How likely is it that they will be hit and how much damage would a large storm cause here? - Cassie (Honolulu)
A: Hurricanes are typically not a threat to Hawaii. According to the release from the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, there are typically four or five tropical cyclones in the region the central Pacific each year, where Hawaii is located. Two of these storms typically reach hurricane status. For this year, the forecast is for two to three tropical cyclones to form, which is below average.
A storm would typically cause more damage to Hawaii than a comparable storm would if it made landfall in the Atlantic basin, for example. One reason for this is that the terrain, with numerous high mountain peaks, lends itself to flash floods and mudslides from the torrential rains. Another is that some construction in Hawaii is less substantial than many buildings in the continental U.S., lending itself not only to destruction but also to debris possibly affecting utility lines and other properties.
The most destructive storm in Hawaii's history was Hurricane Iniki, which caused damages totaling $2.6 billion by 2005 estimates, and killing 6 people. It had winds of 115 mph when it hit the island of Kauai on September 11, 1992. It was the first major hurricane to hit Hawaii in 33 years, and at the time of this writing, the most recent major hurricane to do so as well. JF, 07/07
Q: Where may I go on the Internet to view the present position of the Bermuda High? Bill W. (Vero Beach)
A: The easiest way to view the location of the Bermuda High is to look at a model analysis of the current pressure and wind fields in the Atlantic. Our partners at Weather Underground have helpfully captured an image showing the location of the high at the present time. - JF, 6/30
Q: When does a tropical cyclone become "extra tropical" and what is the difference? Is it just the location of the storm?
A: A tropical cyclone will become an extra-tropical cyclone as it begins to recurve towards the North Pole in the Atlantic basin. However, while location does have much to do with the transition, it is because the cyclone will undergo changes that make it extra-tropical in that location, not because there is a particular region where the storm could be designated as tropical or extra-tropical. The main region where this occurs is usually between 40 and 50 degrees North.
While a mid-latitude cyclone, the typical low-pressure systems that affect much of the United States, is considered extra-tropical, the sort of extra-tropical cyclone that you are referring to is an amalgamation of a tropical cyclone and a mid-latitude cyclone. A tropical cyclone draws its energy through the evaporation and condensation processes while it is over warm waters, while mid-latitude cyclones draw their energy through horizontal differences in temperatures in the atmosphere. An extra-tropical cyclone in transition will typically draw portions of their energy from both. The extra-tropical transition occurs very quickly and is one of the hardest instances in meteorology to forecast. Additionally, there are cases where mid-latitude cyclones will enter warmer waters and go through a transition to a tropical cyclone.
Some other basic differences are that tropical cyclones have warm cores, where the inner portion of the storm is warmer than the surrounding air, while extra-tropical storms have cold cores. In a tropical cyclone, the strongest winds are near the Earth's surface while in an extra-tropical cyclone, they are in the upper atmosphere. With mid-latitude cyclones, there are associated fronts that do not occur with tropical systems. - JF, 6/30
Q: Who had the best cell phone service after the storm? Steve K. (Miramar)
A: That's a tough question to answer. I can tell you that I had Sprint and my service was good after Wilma last year, but that was in Coral Gables. Someone else's experience in Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach might have been different.
The basic reason why this is difficult to answer is that damage from a storm can affect different areas. A Verizon tower might be knocked down in one area, rendering its service poorer there, while a Cingular user might find it difficult to connect 30 miles away.
But Sun-Sentinel reporter Ian Katz, who worked the telecom beat during last year's storm, also makes the point that normally after a storm, "the companies share antennas with other companies. You don't see a huge difference."
Sorry that I didn't have a more definitive answer for you. - JF, 6/30
Q: Wasn't the first storm of the year in 2005 was in April 2005 which formed into a hurricane in the North Atlantic and then dissipated? Gary C. (Friendswood, Texas)
A: The first tropical storm of 2005 was Tropical Storm Arlene, which formed in early June in much the same area that Alberto did this year. The only tropical storm on record in the North Atlantic basin during the month of April was Tropical Storm Ana in 2003. Ana formed from a surface low that detached from a front off of the Florida coast as Subtropical Storm Ana on April 20. Eventually, it developed a warm core and was classified as a tropical storm on April 21. Ana moved on an easterly path, passing south of Bermuda, before eventually being absorbed by a front on April 27. - JF, 6/30
Q: I live on a canal east of Dixie Highway in Pompano Beach. I am not in an evacuation zone. The canal has tides. Do I need to be concerned about tidal surge? Laura (Pompano Beach)
A: It is difficult to say specifically whether or not you need to be concerned, seeing as how I do not know how deep the canal is, what sort of flow in and out of the canal there is from larger bodies of water, and how far away from your house the canal is. I also cannot tell how much the water level rises during high tide, so I cannot judge what the impact of the tides would be on storm surge.
Storm surge develops because the energy of a hurricane stirs up the ocean water and pushes it towards land, and eventually there is no place for it to go, and it goes over land. In this sense, if you are not in an evacuation zone, it is probably for a good reason. Most likely, most of the energy that fuels the storm surge (which is limited on the East Coast of Florida as it is) will be used to push the water onto the coastline and not through the inlets and canals. JF, 6/23
Q: Why did Hurricane Katrina produce a larger storm surge than Camille, Andrew, Rita, and Wilma? From what I understand, those particular storms were stronger than Katrina, and yet their surge was smaller. Please explain. Thank you! Katrina J. (Inglewood, CA)
A: Storm surge is caused by many different factors. In terms of the amount of energy created, the basic parameter is that the lower the pressure of the hurricane, the more energy and the larger the surge will be. Obviously, there is a time factor in there as well how much time a storm spends at that strength.
In the case of Katrina, it made landfall with at 920 millibars, the second lowest pressure ever recorded from a landfalling storm in the United States, behind Camille (909 mb). Camille's storm surge was estimated at 24 feet, while Katrina's was estimated above 14 feet. Both numbers are unreliable due to lack of data from the devastating impact the storms made. Rita and Wilma had significantly higher pressures at the time of their landfalls.
There are several other factors to note that can influence the storm surge. One is the steepness of the ocean floor. For example, the Atlantic Ocean depends very quickly away from the coast of Florida, meaning that storms approaching South Florida from the east usually do not build up significant storm surge, because much of the energy is unable to push the water from those depths, such as with Andrew. The shelf along the Gulf Coast generally is more gradual, and therefore, not as much energy is required to push water over the boundaries and onto land. Another factor is the forward speed of the storm and the angle it takes towards the coast. Wilma, for example, meandered near the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and moved adjacent to land before clipping the very extreme tip of the peninsula, and therefore did not have the momentum or angle to push a devastating storm surge towards the coast.
A final factor, and perhaps the most important to note, is that Katrina's storm surge was so devastating because it hit New Orleans, which is largely below sea level. Higher storm surges have been recorded but rarely have they had such an overwhelming effect on a city. JF, 6/23
Q: At what speed does a tropical storm become a hurricane? Isn't there something else between the stages, or is that before tropical storm? Vanessa R. (McMinnville, OR)
A: The National Hurricane Center classifies storms using four terms. The first term, tropical disturbance, is classified as a tropical weather system of "apparently organized convection" originating in the tropics or subtropics, at a size of about 100 to 350 miles across, and maintaining its identity and characteristics for 24 hours or more. When you hear the term "tropical wave" used by television meteorologists, this is what the NHC would classify as a tropical disturbance.
The second stage is a tropical depression, which is a tropical cyclone with closed circulation and sustained winds no greater than 38 mph.
The third stage is a tropical storm, which is a tropical cyclone with winds between 39 and 73 mph. At this stage, the NHC would issue a name for the storm.
The final stage is a hurricane, which is a tropical cyclone with sustained winds of 74+ mph. At this point, winds are measured on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, and are divided into five categories depending on wind speed. Hurricanes in Category 3 or above (sustained winds of 110+ mph) are classified as major hurricanes.
Note that a storm downgraded to a tropical depression will retain its name at that strength, which is where some of the confusion may have originated. JF, 6/23
Q: I am traveling to [somewhere in the tropics] from [some date] to [some later date]. Will a hurricane affect me while I am there? - Joe S. (Anytown, USA)
A: I made a mistake in answering the first question of this sort about the woman vacationing in Florida towards the end of June in the beginning of July. I did this for three reasons.
One, I thought it was interesting and important to look back and notice that Tampa has been lucky overall with hurricanes, since it lies in a generally prone area. As I mentioned before, many people are waiting for the "Great Tampa Hurricane."
The second reason was to illustrate the general idea that there are traditional areas where hurricanes form at certain times of the year, but that it's not a rule.
The final reason was because some people feel Orlando is inland that is immune to the damages from hurricanes, and Charley proved this is not the case, as recently as two years ago.
The fact is that while there are historical tracks, and hot spots, there is simply no way to be able to tell where storms are going to form weeks and months in advance. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, and the peak time of the season is generally late August and September.
Below are some links to see historical tracks and research the chances of receiving a tropical system at your specific date and location. I cannot give you an answer either way on whether or not you shouldn't take a vacation -- all I can tell you is that we are expecting above average tropical seasons for the next few years, and that all of the Southeast and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are in the potential path. My only advice is to get travel insurance and hope that nothing goes wrong to cancel or ruin your trip.
My favorite of these links is the Historical Hurricane Tracks, which allows you to search by all sorts of different parameters. If you search by climatology from the left menu, it will allow you to specify what months and strengths of storm you are worried about in the desired location.
Another good link comes from Ibis Eye and it offers both current and historical tracks, using Google Maps as a basis. The information at the time of the posting does not include tropical storms that did not reach hurricane status.
Both of these links are a good start to finding out about whether hurricanes have historically affected an area of concern for you. - JF, 6/15
Q: Why doesn't the State of Florida provide hurricane insurance for its residents? - Sara (Fort Lauderdale)
A: I asked business reporter Kathy Bushouse, who is an expert on insurance in the state of Florida, this question. Here is her response.
"The state does provide insurance through Citizens Property Insurance Corp., but that coverage is for people who can't find a policy from a private company. There have been proposals to have the state take over hurricane risk and allow people to buy policies from the government, much like the federal government runs the National Flood Insurance Program, but those proposal have not gone anywhere in the Legislature."
I hope that helps. - JF, 6/15
Q: Can hurricanes reach Minnesota and can they form from rivers and lakes? - Maria (Owatanna, Minnesota)
A: No, hurricanes cannot form on rivers or lakes, and will not be affecting Minnesota any time soon. It has been said that hurricanes are like a "heat engine," meaning they feed off of the heat of the surrounding environment, particularly the oceans.
The rivers and lakes in your area would not be warm enough, as a water temperature minimum of 80 degrees Fahrenheit is required for development and sustenance of a tropical cyclone. Additionally, the water in rivers and lakes is not deep enough to feed the system, because there is not enough energy contained in the relatively shallow depths of those waters. - JF, 6/15
Q: We are planning to move to either Naples, Cape Coral, Boca Raton or Jupiter. Which of these has the least chance of hurricanes? I notice in all the houses for sale ads, they say "new roof on." - Joe M. (Dublin, Ireland)
A: All of the places that you have mentioned are on the Florida coast, so they are always susceptible to tropical cyclones.
Traditionally, locations on the west coast of the Florida peninsula do not receive the same sort of intense hurricanes as the east coast. Volumes have been written about hurricanes and where they go, but the basics are as follows. Hurricanes usually follow steering currents related to other weather systems.
The "Bermuda High", which sits across the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is what steers the storms west towards the Americas, combined with a natural tendency for storms to move a bit towards the North Pole due to the rotation of the earth. From there, hurricanes are susceptible to the highs and lows that affect our weather every day once they reach the higher latitudes.
The location of these systems usually either continue to steer the storms west, either through the east coast of Florida, or south of the U.S. At some point, if the storms do not make landfall and dissipate, they are usually picked up by systems that will recurve them back towards the east. Usually, this occurs before the storms reach land, or too late for them to make a direct hit on the Florida Gulf Coast during the majority of hurricane season. The exception usually comes with late season storms, like 2005's Hurricane Wilma, which get picked up by stronger, late fall troughs and move through the west coast of Florida. - JF, 6/15
Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that a hurricane-to-be brewing off the coast of Africa at approximately 7N 24W? - Anne B. (Toronto)
A: Though the cluster of thunderstorms near that location does look impressive on satellite images, it is unlikely to become a hurricane. The reason for this is that among other requirements, tropical cyclones must form a certain distance from the equator in order to have enough rotation to grow and strengthen. The main area for tropical cyclone formation falls between 10 and 30 degrees above the equator, known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). - JF, 6/9
Q: My husband and I will be vacationing in Florida from June 23 until July 9, 2006. We will be visiting Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Winter Haven and, of course, Orlando. My question is: When was the last time a hurricane hit any of these areas and what are the chances of one hitting during our stay? - M. Jennings (Medford, Oregon)
A: According to the National Weather Service, there's a good chance you will be fine. Their graphs are not specifically searchable to the day (that I am aware of), but those areas are in the 6 percent probability range for June, and less than 2 percent for July. Those dates appear to be largely safe, for some reason, although there have been storms in June and July that have made landfall in the area. The Gulf can be a hotspot for storm formation at that time of year, although most of the storms head west, or make landfall in the Florida panhandle. Storms that come through the Panhandle or hang around in the Gulf can make for miserable, but not particularly damaging weather in these areas. The last hurricane to cause a problem in Orlando was Hurricane Charley in August 2004, which made landfall near Punta Gorda and traveled through Orlando. Some people have said that because Tampa has never taken a direct hit, the "great Tampa storm" is on the horizon. - JF, 6/9
Q: Wondering if I can get a PDF copy of your hurricane guide insert? - Ashley L. (Plantation)
A: Our hurricane quick guide can be found in . - JF, 6/9
Q: I am curious about the planned names for the upcoming you-know-what season. - Linda W. (Sunrise)
A: The hurricane names for 2006 (through 2011) are available on the . And in another plug, this link was also sent out via our weekly e-mail newsletter, which you can . - JF, 6/9
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