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Ask Todd: Eye of the hurricane

11:03 PM, Aug 30, 2012   |    comments
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Carolyn asks: "What is it like in the eye of a hurricane? Is it as it appears on the radar: clear and calm?" and Michelle asks: "Why is the eye of the hurricane so much calmer than the surrounding wind/storm?"

Let's start with the basics about the eye of a hurricane. The eye is the low pressure center of a tropical cyclone.

A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone. In the eye, winds are normally calm and sometimes the sky clears.

An example of this can be seen in a Youtube video from a NOAA P-3 aircraft flying in the eye of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The video shows the sky is blue and there's a "stadium effect" because it feels like you're on a field looking up in the stand.

When you get to the eye, you have to first go through the "eye wall." It's the ring of thunderstorms that surround the eye. The heaviest rain, strongest winds and worst turbulence are normally in the eye wall.

Now, to the second question: Why is the eye of the hurricane calm?

You have to look at the way air flows into and around a hurricane.

As we said, the eye is a low pressure area. So, air from outside the hurricane tries to move into the eye to equalize the pressure. But the air doesn't go in a straight line. It flows in a curve and ends up blowing in a circle around the eye.

In fact, most of the air never reaches the eye, and instead blows in the eye wall. Much of the air then flows upward in the eye wall and exits the storm at the top.

Since the winds end up spinning in a ring around the eye, there isn't enough left to blow in the eye itself and the eye is relatively calm.

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