Ask Josh Fitzpatrick: Why do hurricanes have an eye?

It's the calm part of the hurricane and meteorologist Josh Fitzpatrick explains why most hurricanes have an eye.

It's been an active hurricane season 2011 with Irene and Katia becoming major storms.  When you look at a hurricane on a satellite image what's the first thing focus on? 

I'm sure it's the eye on the hurricane! 

Here's a satellite image of hurricane Irene's eye when she was at her peak over the Bahamas.

You can clearly see the well defined eye in the center of the storm.

I've had a few questions lately from my blog readers about what causes the eye of a hurricane to form?

Hurricane Eye: Inside the radius of the eye wall, the winds and precipitation decrease rapidly. At the center light winds and generally descending air make up the hurricane eye, which is one of the most characteristic features of the tropical cyclone. Eyes range in size from 5 miles to over 120 miles across, but most are approximately 20-40 miles in diameter. The eye is so calm because the strong surface winds that converge towards the center never reach it.

Why is the eye clear? An eye becomes visible when some of the rising air in the eye wall is forced towards the center of the storm instead of outward -- where most of it goes. This air is coming inward towards the center from all directions. This convergence causes the air to actually sink in the eye. This sinking creates a warmer environment and the clouds evaporate leaving a clear area in the center.  Although sinking air in the eye is sometimes sufficiently strong to produce clear skies, there are often shallow cumulus clouds near the surface. The eye is easily recognized in radar photographs and satellite pictures unless a cirrus canopy covers the top of the storm.

Keep those great questions coming and post your comments below!

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