Ask Josh: What Moves A Hurricane?

Meteorologist Josh Fitzpatrick is talking about hurricanes.

We're entering the heart of hurricane season.  You're more likely to see a tropical storm or hurricane this time of year (late August and September) than at any other point of the season.

I got an interesting question from a viewer in Huntington by the name of George who asks "what steers tropical storms and hurricanes, how do they move?"

Here's your answer, George and thanks for watching!  The path a hurricane takes is influenced by several factors, with the upper level winds being among the most important.  These winds, at an altitude of 20,000 to 50,000 feet above the Earth's surface will steer or guide the storm. 

During the summer months in the Atlantic, we get what is called the "Bermuda High". This area of high pressure in the upper levels of the atmosphere is a major factor in determining whether or not a storm makes it to the United States. When the Bermuda High is weak, storms can turn north early and never make it close to the U.S. coastline.  But, when the Bermuda high is well established, storms will track more westerly across the Atlantic, threatening the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast.

Another important factor to note is that weaker tropical systems which don't have a well developed vertical structure, are more influenced by lower level winds.  Consequently, their paths can be much more erratic than much larger, stronger storms.

When all steering currents are weak, storms may not move much at all and that can be disastrous.  Tropical storm Fay did a lot of damage to Florida's east coast last year in the form of beach erosion while a nearly stationary Tropical Storm Allison's remnants  in June 2001, dumped up to 40 inches of rain in the Houston area causing massive flooding.

Oh by the way, this is the 17th anniversary of hurricane Andrew, which was a category 5 storm (the strongest) with winds greater than 155 mph.  This was right around the time I was starting to get interested in meteorology.  Sure it was the blizzard of 1993, 7 months later that really got me into weather but I can recall watching the news and weather reports on Andrew.  The storm struck south Florida on my 10th birthday and all I wanted to do was watch the weather to see what it was doing!  

Below is a great satellite photo of Andrew as it slammed into the Miami and Homestead, FL areas.




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