HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Most people are familiar with the calm center of a hurricane called the eye. But that calm area is surrounded by the dangerous eyewall. What is it, and what exactly makes it so dangerous?
Hurricanes are like giant heat engines in the atmosphere, using warm, unstable air as fuel.
As the air is pulled into the hurricane, it spirals towards the center, getting faster and faster, eventually rising to create the giant cumulonimbus clouds that encircle the calm eye.
This unbroken, vertical wall of clouds is the eyewall.
The convergence of winds here is so strong that the air rises faster, and with more force, than anywhere else in a hurricane, producing intense rain and damaging winds.
In the strongest storms, this can translate to surface winds over 150 miles per hour.