Mitch, Floyd, Michelle, Isidore, Allison - these seemingly innocent common names have wreaked havoc in some parts of the world. The one thread that binds these names is the word "hurricane" - which is simply a powerful storm that measures several hundred miles in diameter.
Hurricanes hold the distinction of being the only natural disaster to have proper names. The word hurricane comes from the Spanish word "huracan"(meaning "big wind"), which originated from "Hurakan", a god of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala. The Carib people of the West Indies adopted the name "hurican"(god of evil) to describe natural destructive phenomena.
Scientists classify hurricanes as "strong Tropical Cyclones" because they develop over tropical or sub-tropical waters and travel long distances gathering energy from the ocean. Hurricanes are likely to form where the seawater temperature is high. Due to strong sunlight, the air pressure over the ocean area drops, thus causing thunderstorms and strong surface winds. When the winds around a cyclone gather speeds greater than 74 miles per hour, it is then called a hurricane in the Atlantic region or a typhoon in the Pacific region.
The hurricane is made up of two main parts, the "eye" and the "eyewall". The eye of a hurricane is the centre of the storm and is relatively calm. The strongest winds and heaviest rainfall occur in the area immediately around the eye, called the "eyewall". Hurricane winds in the Northern Hemisphere circulate in a counterclockwise motion around the "eye" while hurricane winds in the Southern Hemisphere circulate clockwise. This is called the Coriolis effect. In the early 1970s, Herbert Saffir and Robert Simpson devised two definitive scales relating to hurricanes: the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale and the Hurricane Damage Intensity Scale for rating the severity of hurricanes as a measure of the damage they cause. The official hurricane season is from June 1 to November 30.
Tropical cyclones are given names so that communication in terms of forecasts and warnings is easier and reduces confusion if there is more than one storm occurring in the same basin. For centuries the tropical storms in West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. Then in the early 19th century an Australian forecaster started naming them after political figures that he disliked. However, during World War II, they were named after the girlfriends or wives of the U.S. Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists manning the Pacific. From 1979 men's names were also included. Names of Hurricanes are chosen from lists selected by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). A name on the list is expunged by the WMO when a storm is so deadly or costly that future usage of its name on a different storm would be confusing and inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity.
For humankind's entire technological prowess, we are incapable of facing up to the destructive force of the geographical monsters. But the path is slowly emerging, and who knows - one day we may ride these very winds!