GREENSBORO, N.C. — The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is shaping up to be incredibly active with the fifth-named storm making landfall in early July (hurricane season runs through November).
We're looking at a hurricane characteristic staring us straight in the face. Have you ever paid attention to how hurricanes spin? Even if they track left to right, say from the Gulf Coast to North Carolina, they spin right to left.
Is it true hurricanes almost always spin counterclockwise? If so, what causes this directional phenomenon?
Meteorologist Christian Morgan, citing information from the National Hurricane Center, concluded the answer is true -- at least where we live. Hurricanes spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, because of a phenomenon called the Coriolis effect.
"Let's say you were standing at the North Pole and threw a baseball. It's not going to go just straight down to the equator. It's actually going to curve, and that's because of the earth's rotation and the curvature of the earth," he explained.
The Coriolis effect is what makes hurricanes and tropical storms spin. "A small little spark," as Morgan described it, starts feeding off warm and humid ocean water, creating an area of low pressure. Low pressure systems spin counterclockwise, or cyclonically. This allows warm, humid air to rise and form thunderstorms.
"Due to the Coriolis effect, winds move toward the center of low pressure, and they spiral around that center of circulation," he said.
Air currents curve as they travel, due to the earth's rotation. Winds spin faster at the equator than they do at the poles, and as winds move north, they get pushed to the east. As they move south, they are pushed to the west, resulting in the curve. This, Morgan explained, creates the circular spin.
He noted the same phenomenon explains why tornadoes -- and, on a small scale, even some toilet bowls (though manufacturer decisions can overpower the natural effect) -- spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.
Yes, it's true hurricanes spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, thanks to the Coriolis effect.
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