CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Hurricane Ian is continuing to gain strength as it moves north into the Gulf of Mexico and could cause major problems in Florida later in the week.

Hurricane Ian has its eyes on the Florida Gulf Coast later this week but a major question asked is, how do hurricanes form? With the rise of unstable air, thunderstorms need instability in the atmosphere and thunderstorms are the beginning of tropical cyclone formations. The rise in the unstable air leads to convection, allowing the clouds to grow higher into the atmosphere overall allowing these thunderstorms to gain strength.

One of the top ingredients of a tropical system is warm ocean waters. Sea surface temperatures need to be around 80 degrees or warmer to support the storm and allow it to grow which is why hurricanes thrive in areas like the Gulf of Mexico or the tropical Atlantic.

As these thunderstorms continue to develop and organize they begin to create rotation. The first stage of a tropical system is a tropical depression which has winds of 38 mph or less. As these storms continue to gain strength over warm waters they get more organized creating a tropical storm which are winds between 39 to 73 mph. Once this cluster of thunderstorms has intense organization and can support tropical conditions they can grow into a hurricane which are winds 74 mph or more.

Hurricane Ian Tracker

Hurricanes can range in categories from 1 to 5. Category 5 hurricanes are the strongest with winds of 157 mph or more.

  • Category 1 Hurricane: Winds of 74 to 95 mph and will produce some damage.
  • Category 2 Hurricane: Winds of 96 to 110 mph and is extremely dangerous and will cause extensive damage.
  • Category 3 Hurricane: Winds of 111 to 129 mph and will cause devastating damage.
  • Category 4 Hurricane: Winds of 130 to 156 mph and will cause catastrophic damage.
  • Category 5 Hurricane: Winds of 157 mph and higher and will also cause catastrophic damage with most areas being uninhabitable for weeks or months.