A New Perspective on Hurricanes
Every wonder why hurricanes rotate? Or maybe even wonder why hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere rotate counterclockwise when they rotate Clockwise in the Southern hemisphere?
Okay, brace yourself.
Hurricanes don’t actually rotate!
Now that I’ve thoroughly blown your mind, allow me to explain.
We as human beings easily forget that we are hurtling through space rotating at an alarming rate on this blue-green satellite called earth held in place only by the force of gravity. Hurricane winds, despite appearance, are actually traveling in a straight line. It is the earth that rotates. From our vantage point, it appears as if the hurricane is rotating, hence the marked difference between the northern and southern hemispheres. This is called the Coriolis force.
Colorado State University offers this fascinating little example. Imagine two people playing catch. To make the game more interesting, they decide to run in a circle, still across from each other, while tossing the ball back and forth. The game becomes difficult because, from their vantage point, the ball is traveling in a curve and the players must adjust their trajectory to compensate. Anyone watching the game from the outside, however, will notice that the ball is still traveling in a straight line. Only the rotation of the players has changed.
Pretty neat, huh? It’s all a matter of perspective!
Hurricane season begins on June 1st. The next time a tropical disturbance crops up in the Atlantic, you’ll never look at it the same way again!
First Baldwin Insurance
Colorado State University’s Little Shop of Physics