Tropical cyclones are primarily a feature of tropical and subtropical waters. In the North Atlantic, they occur during the summer and fall months, known as the hurricane season. Depending on the time of year, tropical systems originate in different parts of the North Atlantic.
Hurricanes can strike anywhere along the U.S. eastern seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, the Hawaiian Islands and, rarely, the southern California coast.
Other regions that are susceptible to tropical systems include the Pacific, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico coast of Mexico. The Bay of Campeche is often the site of early season formation (June and July). The entire Caribbean is at risk throughout the six month season.
United StatesIn the United States, however, there are areas though, which because of their topographical makeup and heavy population concentrations, are especially vulnerable to hurricane destruction should a storm make landfall nearby.
Some of these areas are the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, especially New Orleans and Florida, the coastline of the Carolinas, and the Northeast Corridor.
International HurricanesIn other parts of the world,hurricanes are called by different names, but are no less dangerous.
The word hurricane is used only to describe tropical cyclones with winds of at least 74 miles per hour that occur in the North Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea or the eastern North Pacific.
In the Western Pacific, west of the International Dateline and north of the equator, tropical storms of such intensity are called typhoons. Cyclones are the proper names for storms in the Indian Ocean, both north and south of the Equator, and around Australia.
BangladeshImagine if half the population of the United States were crammed into the state of Wisconsin. There would be more than 2,000 people attempting to maintain life on every square mile of land.
That was the population density in Bangladesh, squeezed between India and Burma on the Bay of Bengal, when one of the worst natural disasters of the Twentieth Century struck this tiny country.
Just after midnight, on April 10, 1991, a devastating tropical cyclone made landfall in Bangladesh. The resulting storm surge, estimated as high as 20 feet topped by huge waves, washed over offshore islands and carried ocean water miles inland.
The Ganges River flows into the Bay of Bengal, carrying silt in to the low-lying floodplain of Bangladesh, creating one of the world's most fertile crop lands. A third of the country is less than 20 feet above sea level. The shape of the coastline acts as a natural funnel, easily letting water flow up river channels during a cyclone.
The 1991 cyclone was the seventh since 1963 that left death tolls ranging from 10,000 to as many as 500,000 in the 1970 storm. A month after the 1991 storm hit, the official death toll was reported at just under 150,000 deaths, although lives lost to disease, starvation and exposure would eventually increase the count.
Cyclone TracyIt was Christmas Day, 1974, in Darwin, Australia, and Cyclone Tracy was about to make landfall.
Cyclone Tracy began as a weak tropical low about 450 miles northeast of Darwin. Moving slowly to the southwest, it was classified as a cyclone late on December 21, at the start of the hurricane season in the Southern Hemisphere.
As Tracy came around Bathurst Island, northwest of the Australia, satellite imagery showed a rapid intensification when the storm moved across warm ocean water in the Beagle Gulf. Tracy then changed course and headed in a beeline for Darwin, Australia.
Tracy moved slowly onto land, about five miles per hour, causing great devastation due to its lingering pace. Strong winds, gusting up to 135 miles per hour, ravaged Darwin for at least five hours. The tropical cyclone's small, tight eye passed directly over the city.
The city of Darwin was almost completely leveled and had to be rebuilt. Tracy killed 50 residents of Darwin and fifteen people were lost at sea.