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FACTBOX-Five facts about hurricanes

(Reuters) - Hurricane Felix threatens to create as much damage in Central America as Mitch did in 1998.

Here are five facts about hurricanes:

* Hurricanes and typhoons are the same thing. They form when the maximum sustained winds of a tropical cyclone reach 33 meters per second, or 74 miles per hour (119 km per hour). The storms are called hurricanes in the North Atlantic, Northeast Pacific east of the dateline, and South Pacific. They are called typhoons in the Northwest Pacific west of the dateline, severe tropical cyclones in the Southwest Pacific or Southeast Indian Ocean, severe cyclonic storms in the North Indian Ocean, and tropical cyclones in the Southwest Indian Ocean.

* Wind speeds are important in determining a hurricane’s capacity to cause damage. But often the most destructive aspect of a storm is its storm surge, a wall of water caused by high winds and low pressure that can rip buildings off their foundations as it washes ashore. The Bathurst Bay Hurricane, also known as Tropical Cyclone Mahina, caused the highest known storm surge of 42 feet (13 metres) when it struck Bathurst Bay, Australia, in 1899. Fish and dolphins were reported to have been found on top of 49-foot-high (15-metre-high) cliffs. Hurricane Katrina caused a 28-foot (8.5-metre) storm surge along parts of the Mississippi coast in 2005.

* The eye of a hurricane is often dry and windless, and blue sky or twinkling stars can sometimes be seen. The eye is surrounded by the eyewall, the area of highest surface winds.

* Tropical cyclones use warm, moist, air as fuel. Studies have found they need water temperatures of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 degrees Celsius), down to 150 feet (46 metres) below the sea surface, to form.

* The word hurricane is derived from “Hurican,” the Carib Indians’ god of evil.

Sources: Reuters/U.S. National Hurricane Centre

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