The outward extent of wind moving around a hurricane is rarely uniform. The size of this wind field is often skewed to the right side of the storm's forward progress. At the same time, the size of each tropical cyclone varies.
One hurricane, while it may not be very powerful, could have a large wind field and be called a 'large' storm. But other storms could be very powerful but compact is size.
With tropical cyclones, the National Hurricane Center issues a forecast/advisory four times daily that, among other things, provides the extent of various wind fields. These distance values are divided into quadrants and provides the user with a guide to size and severity of storms.
|TOTAL TIME||20 minutes|
|SUPPLIES||Four coloring pencils of different colors.|
|PRINTED/AV MATERIAL||(pdfs) Hurricane Bill Forecast/Advisory, 0-170 nm chart.
Additional charts for different size storms: 0-100 nm chart, 1-250 nm chart
|SAFETY FOCUS||Hurricane Damage Potential|
Using information from Hurricane Bill's Forecast/Advisory...
This wind 'snippet' in the life of Hurricane Bill is typical of a tropical cyclone as wind fields often vary greatly around storms.The first thing to notice is the quadrant with the shortest extent of the wind field (SW quadrant).
Since the wind flows counter-clockwise around the eye, the wind flow in southwest quadrant (in this case) is moving opposite the direction of the storms motion, resulting in a net decrease in wind strength.
Conversely, the northeast quadrant is where the largest extent in the wind field occurs since the storm's forward motion by itself will create wind which is added to the wind flowing around the storm itself. The strongest winds are nearly always on the right side of the storm's forward motion and often in the right-front quadrant relative to the storm's forward motion. So direction and speed of the storm's forward motion will impact the extent of the wind field in each quadrant.
The second thing to be aware of is that the wind is not automatically at the indicated strength at each point in each quadrant. These quadrants represent the regions of greatest extent of each wind. For example, in the northeast quadrant, 34 kt wind extends out to 150 nm.
There may (and probably will be) areas where the wind speed will be lower than 34 kt within that 150 nm. However, somewhere in that quadrant, 34 kt wind will be observed as far as 150 nm from the storm's center.
The third thing to notice is the rapid increase in wind speed as one approaches the storm's center. Using the northeast quadrant as an example, hurricane force winds (64 kt) extend 40 nm from the center.
The highest sustained winds (115 kts) do not occur within the storm's center but in the 'eye wall' located at 15 nm from the center. Therefore, wind speed nearly doubles (from 64 kt to 115 kt) in just a short 25 nm as one moves toward the center of the storm.
This exercise can be repeated using one of the forecast points in the forecast/advisory and/or with different resolution charts.
Small increases in wind speed around a tropical cyclone can have huge increases in potential damage produced by the storm. Therein lies the under recognized danger of tropical cyclones.
In the exercise above the near doubling in wind speed does not double the potential damage produced by the storm but in reality can produce up to 100 times the damage at 115 kt verses the damage produced at 64 kt.
The actual damage that occurs with any storm varies with the type of construction and the direction/duration of wind among other factors. But the rapid increase in potential damage with small increases in strength should cause you to carefully consider moving to safe shelter should evacuation orders be given.