A hurricane is a strong tropical cyclone that measures several
hundred miles in diameter and has 74+ mph winds. It is an area of
intense low atmospheric pressure.
Hurricanes have two main parts. The first is the eye of the hurricane,
which is a calm area in the center of the storm. Usually, the eye
of a hurricane measures about 20 miles in diameter, and has very
few clouds. The second part is the wall of clouds that surrounds
the calm eye. This is where the hurricane's strongest winds and
heaviest rain occur.
Hurricanes are born over warm, tropical oceans. The top
50 meters of the ocean surface needs to be 26.5o C. The
air above the ocean must be cooler than the water temperature, allowing
thunderstorms to form. Hurricanes are fueled by water vapor that
is pushed up from the warm ocean surface, so they can last longer
and sometimes move much further over water than over land. The combination
of heat and moisture, along with the right wind conditions, can
create a hurricane.
Hurricanes are enormous, and they can range in size from 300-600
miles wide and about 10 miles high. They typically have a lifespan
of about 10 days. The wind speed of a hurricane is 75 miles per
hour or more. Between 40 mph and 74 mph winds, the storm is called
a tropical storm.
The fierce winds and rains cause damage to natural areas such as
mangrove swamps, estuaries as well as causing major erosion in coastal
areas. Also hurricanes damage manmade structures such as housing,
buildings, and infrastructure.
Hurricanes play an important part in maintaining marine habitats.
Marine animals can withstand the natural effects of these storms,
but they are not adapted to withstand
discharge of boat fuel and oil that can continue for weeks, damage
caused by the movement of lobster and crab traps, pollutants from
runoff, introduction of non-native plant species. Historically man
has been a primary contributor to the dispersal of non-native plant
species; however, a hurricane event can quickly disperse the non-native
plant species with the high speed winds.
The Puerto Rican Parrot inhabits vegetated sand runs of clear creeks.
Hurricane Opal improved this endangered species partly because fallen
logs from the storm provided more cover. Also, more eddies were
formed so the fish could hide from the severe weather.
Sea Turtles live only in forests of very old pine trees. Foraging
habitat is provided in pine and pine hardwood stands 3O years
old or older with foraging preference for pine trees 1O inches
or larger in diameter. Almost all the nesting trees were destroyed
in Hurricane Andrew. The species was already endangered due to deforestation
of these older trees.
The Red-Headed Duck are bottom dwellers and they filter feed. Phytoplankton
had a major bloom due to runoff and the sediment layer smothered
many organisms. Turbidity, nutrient loading, and dissolved organic
carbon had a negative effect on the organisms. Pollutants from sunken
boats and from runoff were deadly.
Humans living and working in coastal areas cause these problems.
Humans also affect the survival of these animals by diminishing
large portions of different species. Many of the animals who are
most affected by hurricanes are endangered species already.
Hurricanes are natural, but the affected species populations must
be healthy in order to withstand these mighty storms. Our responsibility
is to ensure they are allowed the best chance possible.