hurricane rotation direction

Hurricane rotation direction

Hurricane rotation direction

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Hurricane rotation direction
Hurricane rotation direction


Hurricane Movement

The movement of a hurricane from one location to another is known as hurricane propagation. In general, hurricanes are steered by global winds. The prevailing winds that surround a hurricane, also known as the environmental wind field, are what guide a hurricane along its path. The hurricane propagates in the direction of this wind field, which also factors into the system’s propagation speed. While each storm makes its own path, the movement of every hurricane is affected by a combination of factors, as described below.

In the tropics, where hurricanes form, easterly winds called the trade winds steer a hurricane towards the west. In the Atlantic basin, storms are carried by these trade winds from the coast of Africa, where they often develop (see Hurricane Genesis: Birth of a Hurricane), westward towards the Caribbean Sea and the North American coasts.

Embedded within the global winds are large-scale high and low-pressure systems. The clockwise rotation (in the Northern Hemisphere) of air associated with high-pressure systems often cause hurricanes to stray from their initially east-to-west movement and curve northward. One such high-pressure system, often referred to as the Bermuda High (Azores High) (depending on its location) or more generally as a subtropical ridge, often dominates the North Atlantic Ocean.

Atlantic hurricanes typically propagate around the periphery of the subtropical ridge, riding along its strongest winds. If the high is positioned to the east, then hurricanes generally propagate northeastward around the high’s western edge into the open Atlantic Ocean without making landfall. However, if the high is positioned to the west and extends far enough to the south, storms are blocked from curving north and forced to continue west, putting a large bulls-eye on Florida, Cuba, and the Gulf of Mexico, as was the case during much of the 2004 and 2005 Atlantic hurricane seasons.

In addition to the steering flow by the environmental wind, a hurricane drifts northwestward (in the Northern Hemisphere) due to a process called beta drift, which arises because the strength of the Coriolis force increases with latitude for a given wind speed. The details of beta drift are beyond the scope of the discussion here, but the effect is summarized in the following graphic. Since beta drift involves a hurricane’s ability to modify the environmental wind field, the impact of beta drift on the hurricane’s track changes if the hurricane’s size changes.

As a hurricane propagates northward out of the tropics, the environmental wind field often becomes weak, causing the hurricane to slow down, stall, or move erratically, especially if the hurricane is away from the influence of strong high or low pressure systems.

Once a hurricane reaches further north and enters the mid-latitudes, the environmental wind field usually becomes southwesterly or westerly, often around the western side of a high pressure system and east of a trough of low pressure, causing the hurricane to recurve to the right and accelerate towards the north, northeast, or east. If a hurricane encounters the jet stream while in the mid-latitudes, the storm may accelerate very quickly, allowing it to reach high latitudes, especially if it is travelling over a warm ocean current such as the Gulf Stream. Most of the time, however, land interaction, cold ocean water, or vertical wind shear prevents a hurricane from surviving very far north of the tropics (see Hurricane Decay: Demise of a Hurricane).

While the environmental wind field and beta drift are generally the most important factors determining hurricane movement, other processes may also play a role. When vertical wind shear exists, the hurricane’s rotational wind field may tilt with height.

By displacing the cyclonic (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) circulation in the lower troposphere downstream from the anticyclonic (clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) circulation in the upper troposphere, the vertical wind shear may allow the lower circulation to push the upper one and the upper circulation to push the lower one, having a combined effect of changing the track of the entire hurricane.

If a hurricane is in close proximity to another similarly-sized atmospheric circulation, such as a second hurricane, the two circulations may orbit cyclonically around a common point between them. This motion is known as the Fujiwhara effect.

Land interaction also may change the track of a hurricane, especially when the land is mountainous. Mountains can disrupt the center of a hurricane’s circulation, which may then reform on the other side of the mountains away from the trajectory of the hurricane’s track prior to crossing the mountains.

Hurricane movements can be very unpredictable, sometimes performing loops, hairpin turns, and sharp curves. Forecasters track hurricane movements and predict where the storms will travel as well as when and where they will reach land. For more information on how these weather systems are observed over time, please see Hurricane Observation.


Hurricane rotation direction
Hurricane rotation direction


What Direction Do Hurricanes Rotate?

The Coriolis force is part of the reason that hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere rotate counterclockwise. If the Earth didn’t spin, we would have wicked 300 mph winds from the tropics to the poles and back again.

Coriolis force
The Coriolis force acts in a direction perpendicular to the rotation axis and to the velocity of the body in the rotating frame and is proportional to the object’s speed in the rotating frame (more precisely, to the component of its velocity that is perpendicular to the axis of rotation).

What direction do most hurricanes move?

Thanks to the Coriolis Effect’s impact on air and water, the movement happens in a curved direction; the north goes to the right and the south goes to the left. This is why hurricanes rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and cyclones in the southern hemisphere rotate clockwise.

Cyclonic Rotation: The Direction a Cyclone or Hurricane Rotates

A cyclone or hurricane rotates in a different direction depending on which hemisphere it occurs. A cyclone rotates counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

The phenomenon happens because of the Coriolis effect, which in turn occurs because the Earth is spherical and rotating.

This fact also makes a cyclone happens very rarely near the equator. Near the equator, the Coriolis effect is too weak that it is almost impossible for a cyclone to form.

This phenomenon cannot possibly happen if the Earth is flat and motionless.

Do All Hurricanes Rotate in the Same Direction?

You might wonder if all hurricanes rotate the same way. The answer is kind of complicated; it all depends on where the hurricane originates. All hurricanes in the northern hemisphere rotate counterclockwise, while hurricanes in the southern hemisphere rotate clockwise.

To be technical, hurricanes in the southern hemisphere are not called hurricanes, they are called cyclones. So it’s more accurate to say that all hurricanes rotate counterclockwise and all cyclones rotate clockwise!

Fun Fact: Hurricanes/cyclones have one more name in the eastern hemisphere— typhoons. Typhoons rotate clockwise and counterclockwise depending on whether they were formed in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere.

Why is there a Difference in Rotation Between Hemispheres?

The difference in rotation comes from a phenomenon known as the Coriolis Effect. This effect explains why fluids— like water and air— curve as they travel across the globe.

As you (probably) know, the Earth is a sphere that rotates from east to west on its axis. The points on the globe near the equator are moving much faster than the points north and south of the equator, because they have much further to go due to the fact that the Earth is larger in the middle.

Every hurricane has an area of low pressure in the center that’s known as the eye of the storm. The high pressure around the eye of the storm is trying to move toward to area of low pressure— that’s how air pressure works.

Thanks to the Coriolis Effect’s impact on air and water, the movement happens in a curved direction; the north goes to the right and the south goes to the left. This is why hurricanes rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and cyclones in the southern hemisphere rotate clockwise.

With this in mind, the Equator is the safest place for those concerned about dangerous storms. Hurricanes do not form or hit there because the Coriolis Effect has no power there.


Hurricane rotation direction
Hurricane rotation direction


Is one type of storm more powerful than the other?

Rotation of counterclockwise or clockwise do not have much effect on whether one storm is more powerful than the other. That said, hurricanes happen almost twice as often in the northern hemisphere as their counterparts in the southern hemisphere.

This has more to do with the conditions that are necessary for hurricanes and cyclones to form. These storms form when the ocean water is warm and the wind shears are low. The southern hemisphere’s waters are much colder than those in the northern hemisphere due to the vastness of the ocean and the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

The winds in the Southern Hemisphere are much stronger thanks to the larger temperature gradient (or distance with temperature change). Strong winds prevent the formation of cyclones.

In terms of formation, wind shear and ocean temperature are the most favorable conditions for hurricanes and cyclones to form, but they don’t impact the rotation of hurricanes and cyclones. The rotation also does not have any impact on the power of these storm.

Importance of Preparation

In South Florida, the more you know about hurricanes, the better you will understand the emergency management officials, government officials, and meteorologists who issue warnings when the threat become significant. This knowledge will help you to know how to prepare.

Storm Solutions can help you start to prepare before a storm ever hits. Call Storm Solutions to talk to our customer service to learn more about protecting your property. Our expert teams can install:

  • Impact windows
  • Impact doors\ Impact garage doors
  • Shutters
  • Hurricane screens
  • Folding glass walls
  • Glass linais

This and much more can be done to protect your property. Remember, when a hurricane is coming, the most important thing to protect is life. You protect your family and loved ones, we will protect your property.


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