Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Carter from AL. Carter Wonders, “Can dogs smell fear” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Carter!
Katrina, Andrew, Sandy, Irene…what do you think of when you hear these names? Some of you may think of friends or family members. Many of you, however, may think of some of the most destructive storms ever to hit the United States. What are we talking about? Hurricanes, of course!
Hurricanes are humongous tropical storms that can span a distance of 600 miles or more. They can wreak such havoc because they can last for a week or more as they travel slowly across the ocean. With wind speeds of 75 to more than 200 miles per hour, hurricanes often leave a path of severe destruction in their wake.
There's one part of a hurricane where things are quite different, though. It's called the eye, and it usually exists in the center of a hurricane. The eye can vary greatly in terms of both shape and size.
The eye of a hurricane is often circular or oval in shape. This may be why it's called an eye, since it's shaped somewhat like a human eye. A hurricane's eye can be as small as only a couple of miles wide. Most hurricane eyes, however, range in size from 20 miles wide to more than 60 miles wide.
Unlike the raging winds that exist throughout the remainder of a hurricane, inside the eye it's mostly calm. The peaceful, light winds within the eye contrast severely with the winds that make up the edges of the eye, known as the eyewall. The winds in the eyewall are usually the most severe and destructive winds in the entire hurricane.
At some times, the eye of a hurricane might be filled with clouds. At other times, though, a hurricane's eye can be so clear that the surface of the ocean can be seen in satellite images. If you were to stand on the ground in the eye of a hurricane, you could possibly see clear, blue skies in the day and stars at night. This ability to see clearly in the eye of a hurricane might also explain why it's called the eye.
Scientists still argue about the various theories that seek to explain how hurricanes form. In particular, no one really knows for sure exactly why the eye forms when and where it does. What scientists do know is that, unlike the winds that rotate around the eye, the air inside the eye sinks down and gets warmer.
As the air temperature within the eye increases, pressure decreases and the air gets drier. This causes clouds to evaporate, creating the clear area we see as the eye. Some scientists believe a force, known as the Coriolis force or effect, causes winds to deflect away from the center, creating a calm center around which winds begin to rotate with increasing speed.
Although the eye of a hurricane sounds like a not-so-bad place to be, experts warn that you should always stay inside during a hurricane. Since you never know when the eye will pass by, you wouldn't want to get caught in the destructive winds of the eyewall.
You also wouldn't want to be on the water in the eye of a hurricane. Scientists have noted that the eye of a hurricane can be particularly dangerous on the open seas. The shifting winds can cause waves to crash in from every direction, creating monster waves that can reach heights of over 100 feet!