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A Whirlwind Journey of Hurricane Science

How we've come to understand the "moving vortex" over the years.

By Lacy Schley
Aug 7, 2017 5:00 AMNov 18, 2019 7:45 PM
(Credit: U.S. Air Force)


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Hurricanes, typhoons, tropical cyclones — whatever you call them, it’s prime time for these marine storm systems. The season peaks roughly mid-August through mid-October in our neck of the woods. So let’s take a look at some of the major mile markers for how we came to understand these forces of nature.

1743: John Winthrop is the first to scientifically measure a hurricane; he gathered tidal and pressure data on a storm that passed through the northeastern U.S.

1819: John Farrar first describes a hurricane as a “moving vortex” in his published account of The Great September Gale of 1815 that struck New England.

1847: William Reid creates the Northern Hemisphere’s first hurricane warning system in Barbados.

William Reid (Credit: NOAA)

1870: The U.S. establishes what would become the National Weather Service. The organization issues its first hurricane warning just three years later.

1944: With the help of aircraft, researchers capture radar images of a cyclone’s eye and spiral bands for the first time.

1948: The first evidence is found that water temperatures must be at roughly 80 degrees Fahrenheit for hurricanes to form.

1950: The National Weather Service officially starts naming Atlantic storm systems.

(Credit: NOAA)

1956: Herbert Riehl and William Haggard come up with the earliest statistical hurricane forecasting system.

1971: Richard Anthes develops the first 3-D hurricane simulation.

1984: The first seasonal forecast for hurricanes is released.

2010: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration adds 12 hours of lead time for its hurricane storm watches and warnings, now 48 and 36 hours in advance, respectively.

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