Breakdown: Why do hurricanes spin?

Published: Jun. 26, 2021 at 9:30 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - We’ve all seen the images of hurricanes swirling in the ocean from outer space, but have you ever wondered why hurricanes spin?

Earth is a spinning planet, and its rotation affects climate, weather, and the ocean through the Coriolis Effect.

Named after French engineer and mathematician Gaspard Gustave Coriolis, the Coriolis effect describes how things move to the right in the Northern Hemisphere, and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere because of the Earth’s rotation.

The Coriolis Effect refers to the curved path that objects moving on Earth’s surface appear to follow because of the spinning of the planet.

For example, if you’re at the North Pole and you travel south in a straight line, it’s only a straight line on the Earth’s surface. However, as the Earth continues to spin, it would appear that the object “turns” to the right.

The same thing happens in the Southern Hemisphere, except objects get turned to the left.

The Coriolis effect causes air and water to move towards the right in the northern hemisphere...
The Coriolis effect causes air and water to move towards the right in the northern hemisphere and the left in the southern hemisphere(Esri)

It all comes down to the fact you can’t really travel in a straight line on our spinning planet.

So now that we understand the basics of the Coriolis effect, let’s talk about hurricanes.

Hurricanes area essentially areas of low pressure. As mentioned in a previous Breakdown, air always likes to travel from high to low pressure, so it will move toward the storm.

As the air moves to the storm, in the northern hemisphere, it will get turned to the right. This then creates a spinning motion that is counter clockwise.

Because of the Coriolis Effect, hurricanes spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, while these types of storms spin clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

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