We are all familiar with the yearly storms, the high-speed winds and the terrifying news stories. Every year we prepare for hurricane season by tying down furniture, making sure our impact windows and doors are installed properly, and ensuring the safety of loved ones. When living in a place such as Florida, hurricanes are unfortunately the “bad” that comes with the “good” otherwise beautiful weather for most of the year. Here are 7 interesting hurricane facts that you may not have known about one of Earth’s most destructive natural disasters.
1. The world’s deadliest hurricane to date is the 1970 Bhola Cyclone, killing as many as 500,000 people in East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). The winds of this storm reached 115 mph, and the giant storm surge reached 6 meters high, causing major destruction. Some areas lost nearly half their population to this disaster, and most of the region’s fishing industry was wiped out. The people were highly unsatisfied with the central government’s handling of relief efforts, resulting in political turmoil and a strengthened resistance movement. Tension greatly increased in the following year, which led to a civil war and genocide. The conflict turned into the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and concluded with the founding of Bangladesh– one of the first times that a natural event helped to trigger a civil war.
2. The deadliest hurricane in the U.S. occurred in Galveston, TX on September 8th, 1900. Known as the “Great Galveston Hurricane,” this category 4 storm claimed about 8,000 lives and had winds up to 145 mph. About 3,600 homes were destroyed, and the amount of monetary damage was the equivalent of over $600 million in modern times. At the time of this hurricane, technology and weather reports were not as accurate or advanced as they are now, so residents were mostly aware that a storm was coming, but they had no idea of the size or intensity.
3. The highest wind speeds recorded in a hurricane was from Cyclone Olivia, hitting Australia with significant power in 1996. On the morning of April 10th, Olivia produced the strongest non-tornadic winds ever recorded, with peak gusts reaching 254 mph.
4. Hurricane, cyclone, or typhoon? Many people believe that these terms mean different types of storms, but in reality they are all referring to the same thing, just in different locations on the globe. Hurricanes are tropical storms that form over the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific, cyclones are formed over the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, and typhoons are formed over the Northwest Pacific Ocean.
5. Why are hurricanes named as they are? During World War II, U.S. Air Force and Navy meteorologists needed a better way to denote hurricanes, and many began paying tribute to their wives and girlfriends back home by naming tropical cyclones after them. Other methods were used, but due to the sheer number of storms, there was a need for a more unique naming system. By 1953 the National Weather Bureau (later called the National Weather Service) embraced forecasters’ informal practice of giving hurricanes women’s names, and many other countries adopted the new nomenclature. Through the years, many feminists took issue with the female-only names for these destructive storms, and by 1979 the names began to alternate between male and female. Names of devastating storms with major loss of life and economic impact, such as Katrina in 2005 and Andrew in 1992, are permanently retired.
6. Hurricane season dates are different for each U.S. coast. The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1st while the Pacific hurricane season starts on May 15th. However, both hurricane seasons end November 30th.
7. When a hurricane makes landfall, tornadoes can often form within the hurricane. The reason for this is that the friction over land is much greater than the friction the storm has over water. When a hurricane hits land, the winds near the ground slow down, while the upper-level winds keep their momentum. This change in the wind speed — and sometimes direction — with height is called a “wind shear.” This can lead to a column of rotating air that can generate a weak tornado. These tornadoes usually occur up to 12 hours after landfall.
8. The costliest U.S. hurricane was Hurricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana in 2005. Katrina’s estimated damages totaled up to $108-160 billion. This storm was a category 5 hurricane when moving across the Gulf of Mexico, but dropped to a category 3 by the time it hit Louisiana. While not the strongest storm on record, the main reason for the damage and destruction was the failure of levees in the New Orleans area. These levees were water barriers that were set up to prevent flooding. When they failed, large portions of the city began to flood. Since parts of New Orleans are below sea level to begin with, the flooding created a huge and damaging effect, enhanced by the winds and other elements of this horrible hurricane.
9. One of the leading feminists who persuaded forecasters to name hurricanes after men as well as women was named Roxcy Bolton from Florida. She greatly disliked the association of violent and destructive storms only to women, and over time her voice was heard. Starting with Hurricane Bob in 1979, hurricanes began to be named after men as well. Bolton suggested jokingly they be named after senators instead. She also suggested that the name “hurricane” be changed to “him-i-cane,” though that never took off. Roxcy Bolton also founded the nation’s first Rape Treatment Center, persuaded National Airlines to grant maternity leave to pregnant flight attendants rather than firing them, pressured Miami department stores to eliminate the men-only dining sections in their restaurants, lead the first “March Against Rape” in 1971, and was instrumental in bringing many rape cases to the attention of the public, despite police concerns. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984, and died at the age of 90 on the morning of May 17th, 2017.