Ten questions and answers from Hurricane Watch
Q: What Western Hemisphere hurricane killed the most people, and what war was going on at the time?
A: An unnamed hurricane (names didn’t begin until 1950) killed more than 20,000 people on and around the islands of the eastern Caribbean Sea in 1780. This was during the American Revolution. Chap. 1, page 19.
Q: Sailors back to Christopher Columbus knew that "brick red" sunsets, the disappearance of the puffy clouds that usually dot tropical skies, and high, thin clouds moving in overhead were signs that a hurricane might be coming. But, they didn’t understand why. What is the reason for these signs?
A: Air rises in a hurricane and then flows out of the top of the storm to travel a few hundred miles before it begins sinking. The air flowing out of the hurricane is humid enough to form the high, thin cirrus clouds. When the air sinks far from the storm it warms the air, which evaporates the puffy clouds. The sinking air also traps dust near the surface–even over the ocean–which causes the "brick red" sunsets. Chap. 2, page 50.
Q: When and where did the strongest hurricane of the 20th century hit the United States?
A: A hurricane with winds estimated as fast as 200 mph hit the Florida Keys on Labor Day 1935 with almost no warning. It killed at least 400 people, including 160 World War I veterans who were building the highway to Key West. Chap. 3, page 86.
Q: When was the first deliberate flight into a hurricane made and who did it?
A: On July 27, 1943, Col. Joseph Duckworth, commander of the Army Air Forces Instrument Flying School in Bryan, Texas, and Lt. Ralph O’Hair flew an AT-6, a single-engine, two-seat trainer, into a hurricane that was moving ashore near Galveston. The following year, larger military airplanes began flying into hurricanes and Pacific typhoons to to collect data for forecasters. Chap. 4, page 98.
Q: When was the first hurricane officially named, and what was the name?
A: The National Hurricane Center began naming hurricanes in 1950, using the Korean-War era international phonetic alphabet, which meant the first named storm was "Able," followed by "Baker," "Charlie" and so on. The Hurricane Center switched to women’s names in 1953, and both men’s and women’s names in 1979. Chap 5, p. 130.
Q: Hurricane Camille, the second strongest to hit the USA in the 20th century, came ashore in Mississippi on Sunday, Aug. 17, 1969. What other event was going on in the United States that weekend?
A: That weekend Camille shared the headlines and televison news coverage with the "Woodstock Music and Air Fair" in New York’s Hudson Valley. Chap. 6, page 151.
Q: When a big hurricane threatens the United States, why doesn’t the government bomb it or do something else to kill the storm or turn it away?
A: Even the biggest bomb would be a mere pinprick to a hurricane. From 1961 through 1983, the U.S. government’s Project Stormfury looked into many ways to try to weaken hurricanes, but scientists concluded they couldn’t be sure any would work. Chap. 7, pages 157 through 178 is about these studies.
Q: Is it true that the low air pressure inside hurricanes makes houses "explode" when the storm passes over them?
A: No. In the past some meteorologists and engineers believed that low pressure caused buildings to "explode" from the force of the higher pressure inside pushing out. But they learned that wind flowing over a building fast enough can make the roof act somewhat like an airplane’s wing, which creates a lifting force. If the roof isn’t securely attached, this lifting force can pull it upwards and the winds can then blow over the walls, making it look like the building exploded. Chap. 8, page 186.
Q: In August 1992 Hurricane Andrew hit the heavily populated areas of Dade Counry, Fla., a few miles south of Miami with winds up to 145 mph, doing $30 billion (in 1992 dollars) in damage, making it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. Was it also one of the most deadly natural disasters?
A: No. Considering Andrew’s strength and the large number of people in its way, the death toll was mercifully low. Andrew directly caused 15 deaths in Florida, 8 in Louisiana, and 3 in the Bahamas. Thanks to timely warnings, people evacuated from areas hit by storm surge. Many people survived having Andrew literally blowing their houses down around them by following "tornado safety rules" of taking shelter in places such as bathrooms. Chap. 10, page 259.
Q: Is it true that scientists generally believe that global warming caused by gasses humans are adding to the air has increased the number of hurricanes and made them stronger?
A: No. The number of hurricanes forming over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico was lower from around 1965 until 1995 and there’s no reason to belive other parts of the world have had more typhoons or tropical cyclones (which are the same as hurricanes except for what they are called). In general, climate and hurricane scientists say they can’t say what the effects of global warming will be on hurricanes. Chap. 11, pages 265-268.