1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Hurricane Formation: How Hurricanes Form in the Sahara Desert

The Birth of Atlantic Hurricanes

By

Contributed by Associate Writer Sharon Tomlinson

In the United States, the eastern and Gulf coasts are in danger of being slammed by hurricanes during hurricane season from June through November. But why?

Hurricanes that hit the eastern coast of the United States are born many miles away in the Sahara desert. The waters in the North Atlantic Ocean are typically at their warmest while the Sahara is at its hottest from June through November, so the chances of a hurricane are highest during those times.

Before we begin, if you need extra help, or need to see a video on hurricane formation, click this link - Hurricane Formation Videos. Sometimes seeing the images in action can further clarify understanding.


A hurricane is a complex weather system that can be simply explained as a funnel of warm, wet air. Think of your sink, and the water swirling down the drain; now, put that swirl up in the sky. Oh, and magnify it about a thousand times in size and speed. A hurricane is a non-frontal system whose air has a distinct circular flow. It is created for those of us in the USA, when hot air over the Sahara is released into the North Atlantic.

The Sahara, whose land mass is almost that of the continental United States, is the largest “hot” desert in the world. It is also the second largest desert overall. (Antarctica is classified as a “cold” desert.) In the Sahara, there is an art to living where there is little to no water, and the day-night-day temperatures can swing 30 degrees in a few hours. There are great swirling winds over the Sahara carrying sands over the Mediterranean, bringing storms into England, and dropping sands on the beaches of eastern Florida. Hurricane Formation Videos

The greatest mass of the Sahara lies in the horse latitudes. Defined by light winds and hot dry weather, the name came from the calm on water during which sailing ships were said to have jettisoned their cargoes. It is thought that sailors would eat horses in transit to survive until winds picked up and moved them to their destinations. The temperatures of the land mass of western North Africa grows so hot the air over this area rises to create the Africa easterly jet. Here is the womb of the mother Sahara, and here is where the hurricanes are delivered.

A column of hot air swirls upward three miles and spreads as it races to the west coast where it dips toward the ocean. The air picks up moisture from the warm waters and continues its race westward. The flow of the ocean and the spin of the earth combined with the dry winds of the desert and the warm moist air off the Atlantic horse latitudes make this desert child grow. It spins and flies over the water, sometimes it spends its life out over the open ocean, never reaching landfall. Hurricane Formation Videos

When it does reach land, the winds can have grown and the entire size of the storm can reach massive proportions. The storm receives a name as any child receives a name. It is never just a windstorm. Broken away from the safety of its mother, the desert, and father, the ocean, it will beat itself to death over land, but not before doing great damage and spawning minor storms and tornadoes of its own.

Across the ocean, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Sahara continues to birth these great storms during the fertile season from June through November. As the winds return to just carrying sand across the waters, the United States can breathe a sigh of relief as the desert rests.Hurricane Formation Videos

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.