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About the World's Hurricanes

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When the massive storms come onshore with brutal winds and heavy rains, the world takes notice and communities can be devastated. Here's more about some of the world's worst storms.

World's Worst Hurricanes

(Photo by Getty Images)
Every year as storm season approaches, residents in vulnerable coastal areas prepare to board up windows and scoot farther inland at a moment's notice. Here are the times that Mother Nature's fury has wreaked the most havoc with violent winds and torrential rain, whether called hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones.

2012 Hurricane Names

Beginning in 1953, hurricanes were given predetermined names -- intended to make communications about a particular storm easier -- by the National Hurricane Center. After all, say there are multiple storms developing simultaneously. Nomenclature eases communication about which storm is headed for the Gulf Coast, which might make landfall in Mexico, etc. People need to be properly prepared for the accurate event that may affect them. The pre-prepared lists for each year are now maintained by the U.N. body World Meteorological Organization.

Hurricane Ike

(Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images)
The 2008 hurricane season continued with deadly Ike, a September storm that lashed the Caribbean with Category 3 ferocity, leaving at least 80 dead in its path, and barreled toward the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Katrina

(Photo by Kyle Niemi/US Coast Guard via Getty Images)
Hurricane Katrina, with peak winds of up to 175 mph, roared through the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005, bringing down the levee system that kept New Orleans from being underwater. More than 1,800 people died in the catastrophic storm and chaotic aftermath that caused more than $80 billion in damage and scattered Gulf residents to livable areas. Here are photographs from that catastrophic event in American history.

Gulf Coast Braces for Hurricane Gustav

(Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty Images)
Rattled by the destruction of Katrina three years before, residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Gulf Coast areas fled in a historic evacuation as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the United States.

The Aftermath of Cyclone Nargis

(Photo by Getty Images)
After deadly Category 4 Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar/Burma on May 2, 2008, relief efforts were hampered by the unwillingness of the military junta to accept outside help. Foreign media were kept out without first obtaining hard-to-get visas, and death toll estimates ranged from the official government tally of around 22,000 to outside estimates of up to 100,000 dead. When some journalists finally squeezed into the country, a true picture began to unfold of the devastating effect the storm had on the already beleaguered nation.

What Causes Hurricanes?

Hurricanes start when warm, moist air from the ocean surface begins to rise rapidly, where it encounters cooler air that causes the warm water vapor to condense and to form storm clouds and drops of rain. The condensation also releases latent heat, which warms the cool air above, causing it to rise and make way for more warm humid air from the ocean below. As this cycle continues, more warm moist air is drawn into the developing storm and more heat is transferred from the surface of the ocean to the atmosphere. This continuing heat exchange creates a wind pattern that spirals around a relatively calm center, or eye, like water swirling down a drain.

Hurricane Categories

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is utilized to determine the relative strengths of hurricanes that may impact the United States coast. Since the 1990s, only wind speed has been used to categorize hurricanes. There is no Category Six for hurricanes. While some have suggested such a category, since only three Category Five storms have struck the United States, Category Five would appear to be more than adequate.
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