Hurricane Irma: The science of the deadly storm

With Hurricane Irma battering the west coast of Florida, experts are explaining the science behind the deadly storm.

The hurricane, which has left a trail of devastation across the Caribbean, made landfall as a Category 4 storm in the Florida Keys Sunday morning, before setting out on a path along Florida’s western coast.

Depending on where in the world they occur, hurricanes are also known as typhoons or cyclones. The scientific term for all these storms is a tropical cyclone, notes NASA. Hurricanes are tropical cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern and central Pacific Ocean.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale is used to measure the storms – from Category 1 (74-95 mph) to the strongest, Category 5, with wind speeds of 157 mph and higher.

A major hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 111 mph or higher, which corresponds to a Category 3, 4, or 5, according to NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

NASA compares tropical cyclones to “giant engines” that use warm, moist air as fuel. “That is why they form only over warm ocean waters near the equator,” it explains. “This warm, moist air rises and condenses to form clouds and storms.”

“As this warmer, moister air rises, there’s less air left near the Earth’s surface,” adds the space agency. “Essentially, as this warm air rises, this causes an area of lower air…

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