Natural Disasters Explained: Hurricanes

Hurrican Sandy as photographed by NASA, November 2012 - NASA’s Earth Observatory

Hurricane Sandy as photographed by NASA, November 2012 – NASA’s Earth Observatory


ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and vital supplies to support communities around the world overwhelmed by disaster and humanitarian crises. Since we began in 2000, we have responded to over 230 disasters including earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, landslides, typhoons and conflict. 

In the first of a series of features looking at the causes of some of the world’s natural disasters, we explore the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season and what it could mean for the families living in coastal regions within the hurricane basin.

What is the difference between a tropical cyclone, a typhoon and a hurricane? 

2013's Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm on record to ever make landfall

2013’s Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm on record to ever make landfall

According to the US National Hurricane Centre ‘A tropical cyclone is a rotating, organised system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has a closed low-level circulation.’ The term hurricane specifically refers to tropical cyclones with winds of at least 74mph and which occur only in the North Atlantic Ocean, eastern North Pacific, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. These regions are often referred to as the hurricane basin. Meanwhile in the Western Pacific, tropical storms of equal intensity are instead referred to as a typhoon not a hurricane.

Due to the influence of what is known as the Coriolis force, caused by the earth’s rotation, in the Northern Hemisphere Tropical Cyclones rotate anticlockwise, and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

Typically, when do hurricanes occur and how are they named? 

The 2014 Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. The first recorded hurricane of 2014 was Arthur, which emerged on July 1 and grew in intensity until it made landfall on the eastern coast of US on July 4. By July 5 Arthur had weakened and was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone as it headed over Canada. Throughout Arthur’s journey the ShelterBox operations team was monitoring the storm; working with in-country contacts, established partners for meteorological tracking and preparing distribution plans for a response. The operations team was relieved on this occasion that a deployment response wasn’t needed, but this level of constant readiness is a key ShelterBox attribute.

Based on historical weather records a typical year can expect to bring around 12 tropical storms to the hurricane basin, of which around six are likely to evolve into hurricanes. With so many tropical storms, often active at the same time, a system for naming them was devised by meteorologists. Names are assigned in alphabetical order. The names can be repeated, but only after an interval of six years. However the names of severe storms are permanently retired from usage. Furthermore during even numbered years, men’s names are assigned to the odd numbered storms and during odd numbered years, women’s names are given to odd numbered storms. In 2014 the first seven tropical storms will be named: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay and Gonzalo.

How do hurricanes affect coastal regions?

The heavy rains and strong winds created by a hurricane can cause vast devastation, destroying buildings, roads and cars. Often the hurricane can cause additional waves called storm surges that submerge coastal regions adding to the damage to homes and infrastructure.

With this level of damage families are often left homeless and in need of basic supplies to survive. This is where ShelterBox can help. But to be able to respond quickly means we need to be prepared in advance – ready to deliver aid at a moments notice.

Hurricane Katrina

ShelterBox was one of the first agencies on the ground when Katrina hit

ShelterBox was one of the first agencies on the ground when Katrina hit

When hurricane Katrina struck the US in August 2005 over 100,000 homes were left without power as the hurricane crossed southern Florida. It strengthened further as it veered inland to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Over 200 kilometres of coastline was devastated in total, claiming 1,836 lives and leaving thousands without homes. ShelterBox was quick to respond and, thanks to the generous support of donors worldwide, was able to send a total of 1,320 ShelterBoxes to help communities affected by the hurricane.

Monitoring hurricane season 2014

As Hurricane Arthur passed over Canada, its energy dissipating as it moved, forecasters began to turn their attention to when the next tropical storm may emerge. The ShelterBox operations team continue to monitor tropical storms, alongside a multitude of other potential natural and manmade disasters, enabling us to be in a position to respond rapidly, effectively and efficiently when disaster strikes.

We can only reach families in need quickly following a disaster thanks to supporters like you. To make a donation visit click here or find out other ways of getting involved here.

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