Learn about the Coriolis effect.

By Perri Ormont Blumberg
September 13, 2018
Harvepino/Getty Images

You may have heard that hurricanes only spin counterclockwise, but you may wonder what accounts for this phenomena. The reason is science, dear readers, and here's a breakdown of what occurs:

"It all comes down to the Earth’s rotation. No matter where in the world you are, it takes the planet 24 hours to rotate once—but certain areas are moving faster than others," writes Marissa Laliberte for ReadersDigest.com. "Think about it: If you’re standing right by the North Pole, you’d only end up traveling six feet or so in a day, so you’d be going about 0.00005 miles per hour. But on the equator, you’d need to make it all 25,000 or so miles around the Earth—about 1,040 miles per hour, according to the NOAA and NASA."

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What is the Coriolis effect?

These various velocities (described above) come together to create what is known as the Coriolis effect, which in turn gives a typhoon, hurricane, or cyclone, a curved path. When you're in the Northern hempisphere, the air heading north curves to the east as the air moving south curves to the west, giving the storm its counterclockwise direction.

Where can I learn more about the Coriolis effct?

To embrace your inner third grade science junkie, check out the government's SciJinks site devoted to weather. There, they reveal that the Coriolis effect is named after the French mathematician and physicist Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis and share various infographics and diagrams to help show how the Coriolis effect works. "Big storms like hurricanes and typhoons (tropical cyclones) are low-pressure systems. That means that they suck air into their center," a sidebar explains. "But as we just learned, air traveling long distances across Earth does not simply move in a straight line. Just like our soccer ball, the air being sucked into the storm deflects. This deflection is what causes tropical cyclones to spin."

Do hurricanes ever form on the equator?

The question of whether hurricanes ever happen on the equator may also come to mind when learning about the Coriolis effect. Because this area of the earth does not feel the Coriolis effect, hurricanes do not come to be on the equator. "The farthest south we have seen a hurricane or tropical storm form in the Atlantic is about 7 or 8 degrees north of the equator," Chris Landsea, a Science and Operations Officer at the National Hurricane Center, told CNBC. "Right on the equator, the winds and low pressure areas don't feel the force of the Coriolis itself. So one of the safest places from hurricanes in the tropics is right on the equator, because hurricanes never form there or track there."

Preparing for a hurricane? Check out what to pack in your hurricane survival kit here.