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Students Ask: Why do hurricanes impact Florida, and do they happen in Hawaii?

Here at WHNT News 19, we love answering your questions about the weather.

Today's questions comes from Amaya Draper at Williams P-8:


While hurricanes do happen to affect the state of Florida, this image shows that they can impact a much larger region of the Southeast, including the Gulf Coast as well as the Eastern Seaboard.

(Source: NHC/NOAA)

(Source: NHC/NOAA)

The slideshow below shows the favorable regions for tropical cyclone development during each of the summer and fall months ("tropical cyclone" is a catch-all phrase that includes tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes).

(MORE: What is the difference between a tropical depression and a tropical storm?)

You will notice that the regions of favorable development include the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Ocean, and the western Atlantic Ocean. This is because these are regions of very warm ocean waters -- 82 degrees or greater, which is the minimum temperature for tropical cyclone development.

In addition, the winds in these regions at these times are favorable for tropical development. The winds exhibit a broad area of rotation, similar to air revolving around a low pressure system. This rotation, or spin, needs to be enough to organize tropical clusters into a tropical cyclone, but not enough that the winds rip the thunderstorm towers within the developing cyclone apart. The prevailing winds then carry the tropical cyclone north and west. Often, Florida is in the path of these tropical cyclones -- including hurricanes -- due to its prominent location in the Southeast, as well as the fact that it is a peninsula that juts into region of favorable development.

But what about Hawaii?

While many of us associate hurricanes more with Florida than with Hawaii, the tropical tempests are still a real threat for the islands of paradise.

(Source: Central Pacific Hurricane Center)

(Source: Central Pacific Hurricane Center)

The graphic above shows the tropical storms and hurricanes that have passed within 75 miles of the Hawaiian Islands since 1950, including Hurricane Iwa (1992) that struck the island of Kaua'i as a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

Twenty years later, Hurricane Iniki slammed into Kaua'i as well, this time as a powerful Category 4 storm. According to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, " Estimated maximum sustained winds over land were 140 miles per hour with gusts as high as 175 miles per hour, making Iniki the most powerful hurricane to strike the Hawaiian Islands in recent history."

However, the image above  does not include the 2014 through 2016 hurricane seasons, which is when numerous tropical cyclones either passed nearby or directly hit the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall over the Big Island, the first to do so in the state's history. Just days later, Hurricane Julio threatened to impact the Hawaiian Islands, but quickly jogged just northwest of the island chain before doing much damage.