There is a circus of weather under the big tent of the atmosphere. Of all the spectacles under the big top, the hurricane is the main attraction. Like Barnum and Bailey, it is the greatest show on Earth.

In Figure 11.1, the space shuttle captures the impressive image of Hurricane Florence churning across the Atlantic Ocean in 1994. One of the most destructive of all weather phenomena, a hurricane is a low pressure system of tropical origin that produces sustained surface winds of at least 119 km/hr (74 mph). A hurricane has a humble beginning, sprouting from a cluster of disjointed tropical thunderstorms. But, like a merger of small companies that creates a large corporation, these thunderstorms organize themselves into a partnership called a hurricane. If a partnership doesn't make the grade of hurricane because its portfolio of wind speeds is less than 119 km/hr but greater than 62 km/hr (39 mph), then the corporation is called a tropical storm. The organized systems of thunderstorms that constitute tropical storms and hurricanes are like giant conglomerates compared to the entrepreneurial air-mass thunderstorms that bubble up here and there over the tropical regions of the globe.

Among tropical cultures, hurricanes go by many names, from typhoon in the western Pacific to tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean and Australia. In the scientific culture of meteorology, hurricanes are also called heat engines, tropical dynamos whose horsepower ratings are like none you've ever seen.

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