There is nothing like them in the atmosphere. Born in warm tropical waters, these spiraling masses require a complex combination of atmospheric processes to grow, mature, and then die. They are not the largest storm systems in our atmosphere or the most violent, but they combine these qualities as no other phenomenon does.
In the Atlantic Basin, they are called hurricanes, a term that echoes colonial Spanish and Caribbean Indian words for evil spirits and big winds. These awesome storms have been a deadly problem for residents and sailors ever since the early days of colonization. Today, hurricane damage costs billions of dollars. During this century, 23 hurricanes have each caused damage in excess of $1 billion (adjusted for inflation). Damage from Hurricane Andrew (1992) alone was estimated at more than $25 billion in South Florida and Louisiana and undoubtedly would have been higher had the storm hit Miami directly.
Thankfully, the number of people injured or killed during tropical cyclones in the United States has been declining, largely because of improvements in forecasting and emergency preparedness. Nonetheless, our risk from hurricanes is increasing. With population and development continuing to increase along coastal areas, greater numbers of people and property are vulnerable to hurricane threat. Large numbers of tourists also favor coastal locations, adding greatly to the problems of emergency managers and local decision makers during a hurricane threat.
Hurricanes cannot be controlled, but our vulnerability can be reduced through preparedness.
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