Hurricane – causes, consequences and measures

Hurricanes are gigantic tropical cyclones. They pose an enormous threat, especially to people in developing countries, where there is often a lack of resources and opportunities to adequately protect themselves from the forces of nature.

A man with his daughter in front of the ruins of a house in Grand Anse

Haiti is devastated after the hurricane. © Nicolo Lanfranchi

Tropical cyclones rage ever more destructively. Every year during hurricane season, the storm giants level entire regions to the ground and claim hundreds of lives. These weather extremes hit poor countries particularly hard. There, they often take on the proportions of a natural disaster and exacerbate the poverty and hunger situation in many regions.

Millions of people had to leave their homes and were evacuated to emergency shelters

Climate scientists say we need to brace for more powerful hurricanes and more destruction in the future. Man-made climate change plays a crucial role here by increasing the likelihood of major hurricanes. The most recent example is Hurricane Dorian, which swept along the southeastern coast of the U.S. in September 2019 with winds of up to 354 kilometers per hour. Dorian was so strong that experts discussed whether category 6 should be introduced for hurricanes. So far, storms are categorized from 1 to 5. Dorian would have reached level 6 if it had existed.

For people in poorer countries this means an enormous danger. They often lack the means to adequately protect themselves from the forces of nature. Welthungerhilfe is working on the ground in affected countries, helping people both acutely and sustainably. Whether with rapid emergency aid in the event of a disaster or resilience projects for disaster prevention: our measures ensure the survival and future of many affected people.

Earthquakes, hurricanes or crises – the WorldRiskReport examines globally which countries and population groups are at risk.

What is a hurricane?

Hurricanes are large rotating tropical storms that usually form between June and November in the Atlantic, but can also form in other oceans. They develop wind speeds of more than 119 kilometers per hour in the process.

The direction of rotation of the storm is influenced by the rotation of the earth. Hurricanes in the northern hemisphere rotate counterclockwise, those in the southern hemisphere clockwise. A hurricane always consists of a center, the so-called eye, and the cloud bands emanating from there. The eye is a cloud-free and relatively calm area by comparison. The storm’s real power is released in the cloud band, the outer area around the eye.

There is more than one name for hurricanes. From Hurricane is usually used when the storm occurs along the coasts of North and South America. Typhoons On the other hand, typhoons form in the Asian region, more precisely in the Northwest Pacific Ocean. A hurricane in the Indian Ocean is known as Cyclone.

These terms are often used synonymously with the term Tornado Used. However, there is a key difference here: hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones form over water, while tornadoes always appear over flat land.

How hurricanes form?

The exact combination of conditions required for hurricanes to form is still poorly understood. A key factor is warm ocean water. For a hurricane to form, the sun must heat the ocean water to at least 26.5 degrees Celsius. This causes the seawater to evaporate, forming a cloud of warm and moist air that rises continuously upward. Air that is already rising attracts more air from below, which also warms over the sea and also rises. Thus, a huge thundercloud forms over the ocean, which grows as warm air continues to flow in. Finally, a low-pressure area is formed and due to the earth’s rotation, the construct of clouds begins to rotate. Ocean winds carry the storm over the water, from which it continues to draw energy as it moves. Once the storm hits cold water or land, it loses its energy source and begins to dissipate.

Infographic How does a hurricane form, 2020

Infographic How a hurricane forms, 2020

Infographic How does a hurricane form, 2020

How climate change affects hurricanes?

Climate scientists do not necessarily predict an increase in tropical storms, but they do expect more severe storms in the future, with an increased destructive scale. According to analyses, the world’s strongest hurricanes have increased in intensity over the last two to three decades.

But what exactly is the impact of climate change??

While farmers in Europe have so far been the main ones to feel the effects of climate change in the form of reduced harvests, millions of people in the South are losing their livelihoods.

On the one hand, the worldwide increase in temperatures results in a stronger warming of the sea water at the ocean surface. The strength and extent of a storm is directly related to the temperature of the water over which it forms. This is because the storm draws its energy from the warm water. Scientists expect an increase in maximum wind speed of up to 11 percent. Precipitation levels could increase by up to 20 percent for this purpose.

The rise in sea level caused by climate change is also very likely to intensify the effects of hurricanes. This makes coastal regions in particular more susceptible to severe storm surges, which pose a major threat to the resident population. A 2014 study shows: The water masses pushed inland by the hurricane are responsible for nearly half of the deaths from tropical storms from 1963 to 2012.

Hurricane: Poor countries in particular have to struggle with the consequences for a long time

With thoughtful interventions, Welthungerhilfe helps people be better prepared for disasters.

Actions taken by Welthungerhilfe

Welthungerhilfe is assisting those affected by hurricanes with a variety of interventions. We use the calm before the storm for disaster preparedness and respond with acute emergency aid in extreme cases. Central to the work is resilience, which is "the ability of individuals, communities or institutions to recover quickly from extreme stress and develop strategies to deal with recurring challenges." Experience has taught us that prevention is more effective in the long run than aftercare.

Other key words are early warning and early action. Acute risks are identified for each region and the hazard potential is evaluated. Following, we take proactive disaster prevention measures with local partners and government agencies.

Despite all precautions, the forces of nature strike with extreme force and are unpredictable. We cannot prevent disasters, but we can limit their destruction.

Preparedness and reconstruction projects

A woman receives bags and packages from a man in a safety vest

Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

When Cyclone Idai swept through Mozambique in March 2019, people were surprised by it while they slept. Villages were quickly trapped by water, leaving residents with only their lives and what they carried on their bodies to save. Welthungerhilfe supported affected people by distributing tents, hygiene kits and seeds, as well as helping to build latrines.

Destroyed houses and rubble

Hurricane Matthew in Haiti

In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew ripped out trees in Haiti, whirling away roofs and hurling people and animals through the air. Torrential rains flooded whole regions of the country. Around 1.4 million Haitians were subsequently dependent on aid. Welthungerhilfe provided acute emergency aid and longer-term reconstruction support.

Learn more

A World Hunger Relief car sits in the background, the driver looking out the window at dead livestock in front of him

Cyclone Sagar in Somaliland

Cyclone Sagar left a swath of destruction in May 2018. Many people in Somaliland lost their livelihoods: homes, animals, land, irrigation systems. The Welthungerhilfe team was able to react quickly and provide emergency aid with food, chlorine tablets and water tankers. A longer-term goal is the rehabilitation of irrigation systems.

Case study Haiti – Hurricane Matthew

Before the hurricane was to reach Haiti, Welthungerhilfe, together with other partners, made disaster preparedness arrangements. Particularly vulnerable areas were evacuated on a large scale and emergency shelters were built for up to 340 people.000 people. For this purpose, rotten trees were cut down as a precaution, infrastructure was secured and easily destroyed structures, such as market stalls, were temporarily dismantled. Sewers were also pumped out and cleaned so as not to contaminate drinking water in the event of flooding.

Without these precautions, the ultimate scale of the hurricane in the Caribbean would have been even greater. The hurricane hit Haiti hard: Hundreds of people lost their lives, more than 200 were displaced.000 houses in number were damaged or completely destroyed and infrastructure collapsed in many regions. Especially in the south of the island, the storm destroyed about 80 percent of the expected harvest. For the poorest country in the western hemisphere, this meant a huge catastrophe.

After the disaster, Welthungerhilfe provided 100 percent of the relief aid.000 euros in emergency aid was made available. Those affected were quickly and effectively supplied with food, blankets, water, hygiene products and water purification tablets. Homeless people found refuge in one of the many emergency shelters set up beforehand. After the storm, we also helped with cash-for-work projects to rebuild the rural infrastructure of the island nation.

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