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Kid Weather Question: How do hurricanes form?

How do hurricanes develop?

Jessica Sperry asked on Facebook, "My 8-year old wants to know. How can you tell what storms might make a hurricane?"

Great question, Jessica! In order for a hurricane to develop we need to have several ingredients coming together perfectly.

Typically, it all sprouts from a seed: an ordinary cluster of thunderstorms.

How do we know if any particular cluster of thunderstorms will develop into a scary, damaging hurricane?

Well, again the ingredients need to be present and those ingredients are...

Warm ocean waters. Hurricanes need waters of at least 80° Fahrenheit to sustain themselves. Why that warm? It has to do with the amount of latent heat released (physical exchanges of energy) that essentially powers a hurricane. The warmer the water and deeper down in the ocean that warmth extends, the more energy that is available for a storm to use.

RELATED: Kid Weather Question: What's the strongest winds ever recorded in a hurricane?

Low wind shear. Wind shear is a change in wind direction and speed as you go higher up in the sky. Hurricanes are vertically built with towering thunderstorms. If the winds are relatively light at the surface but gain speed and change direction with height then developing thunderstorms would be torn apart. This would effectively kill a storm and halt any development.

Moist air. Think about it, it’s a tropical system; it needs moist air at all levels of its development. Dry air will choke it off and prevent it from breathing properly.

The longer a developing low pressure system spends in this type of environment, the stronger and more powerful it may grow.

As long as a hurricane is within a favorable environment, it will remain a strong and dangerous storm. However, if one or more of those crucial ingredients falls away, then the storm has a greater chance of falling apart.

As hurricanes interact with land, they lose their fuel (the warm ocean waters). This is why hurricanes rapidly deteriorate upon making landfall, mostly after coastal communities sustain massive damage.

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