What is Hurricane Season?

Instructor: Heather Pier

Heather has taught high school and college science courses, and has a master's degree in geography-climatology.

Learn the facts about hurricane season -- what is it, when does it happen, where does it happen, and why do hurricanes only form in certain locations during certain times of the year.

What is Hurricane Season?

Like most weather phenomena, hurricanes, which are a tropical cyclone or severe tropical storm, tend to form under a specific set of physical conditions. Given that hurricanes form in oceans, which have variable water temperatures depending on the time of year and geographic location, it stands to reason that there would only be certain times of the year when water temperature and prevailing weather patterns would be favorable for the development of hurricanes.

Hurricanes can only form during certain times of the year.

Much like the human body requires homeostasis in order to function properly, hurricanes require specific water temperature conditions and strong rotating winds in order to develop and flourish. These ideal conditions only really exist within 5 to 15 latitudinal degrees north and south of the equator, from May to November. We collectively call these months during which hurricanes can form hurricane season.

When is Hurricane Season?

As the band the Byrds (and the Book of Ecclesiastes) tell us, 'To everything, there is a season...' and hurricanes are no exception. Whether you are dealing with the Atlantic or Pacific basins, there is a specific season, or time of year, that hurricanes can occur. The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1, and runs through November 30. The Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 also until November 30.

It should be noted that while we won't address them in this lesson, there are separate seasons for western and southern Pacific hurricanes, which are commonly referred to as typhoons. Approximately 97% of hurricanes form within the designated season, but occasionally, we do see hurricanes forming in the 'off season.' Most of these off-season storms tend to only be tropical depressions or tropical storms, as the temperature conditions aren't usually ideal at that time to produce fully developed hurricanes. In recent years, only Tropical Storm Arthur, in May 2008, did much damage.

Where Do Hurricanes Form?

According to Professor Henry Higgins in 'My Fair Lady', 'In Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen.' It isn't often that Broadway musicals are scientifically accurate, but in this case, the professor of linguistics is correct. Hurricanes require warm water temperatures, a contrast in temperature between the sea surface and the air mass above it, and curving winds. These requirements can only be met during the months mentioned in the previous section (summer time in the northern hemisphere tends to produce the warmest water conditions of the year), in regions approximately 5 to 15 latitudinal degrees north and south of the equator.

As evidenced in this satellite image, all hurricanes form between 5 and 15 degrees north or south of the equator.

The warm, tropical waters of the equatorial regions aren't the only reason for the stringent geographic location requirement. Given the curvature of the Earth, it is only in these regions that the curvature of the winds is sufficient enough to produce the type of rotating, cyclonic weather systems that become hurricanes.

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