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What is a Cyclone?

Cyclones are huge revolving storms caused by winds blowing around a central area of low atmospheric pressure. In the northern hemisphere, cyclones are called hurricanes or typhoons and their winds blow in an anti-clockwise circle. In the southern hemisphere, these tropical storms are known as cyclones, whose winds blow in a clockwise circle. How do Cyclones occur? Cyclones develop over warm seas near the Equator. Air heated by the sun rises very swiftly, which creates areas of very low pressure. As the warm air rises, it becomes loaded with moisture which condenses into massive thunderclouds. Cool air rushes in to fill the void that is left, but because of the constant turning of the Earth on its axis, the air is bent inwards and then spirals upwards with great force. The swirling winds rotate faster and faster, forming a huge circle which can be up to 2,000 km across. At the centre of the storm is a calm, cloudless area called the eye, where there is no rain, and the winds are fairly light. As the cyclone builds up it begins to move. It is sustained by a steady flow of warm, moist air. The strongest winds and heaviest rains are found in the towering clouds which merge into a wall about 20-30 km from the storm's centre. Winds around the eye can reach speeds of up to 200 km/h, and a fully developed cyclone pumps out about two million tonnes of air per second. This results in more rain being released in a day than falls in a year in a city like London. When and where do Cyclones occur? Cyclones begin in tropical regions, such as northern Australia, South-East Asia and many Pacific islands. They sometimes drift into the temperate coastal areas, threatening more heavily populated regions to the South. Northern Australia has about four or five tropical cyclones every year during the summertime wet season. For a cyclone to develop, the sea surface must have a temperature of at least 26C. When warm air rises from the seas and condenses into clouds, massive amounts of heat are released. The result of this mixture of heat and moisture is often a collection of thunderstorms, from which a tropical storm can develop. The trigger for most Atlantic hurricanes is an easterly wave, a band of low pressure moving westwards, which may have begun as an African thunderstorm. Vigorous thunderstorms and high winds combine to create a cluster of thunderstorms which can become the seedling for a tropical storm. Typhoons in the Far East and Cyclones in the Indian Ocean often develop from a thunderstorm in the equatorial trough. During the hurricane season, the Coriolis effect of the Earth's rotation starts the winds in the thunderstorm spinning in a circular motion.

Cyclone Danger Cyclones create several dangers for people living around tropical areas. The most destructive force of a cyclone comes from the fierce winds. These winds are strong enough to easily topple fences, sheds, trees, power poles and caravans, while hurling helpless people through the air. Many people are killed when the cyclone's winds cause buildings to collapse and houses to completely blow away. A cyclone typically churns up the sea, causing giant waves and surges of water known as storm surges. The water of a storm surge rushes inland with deadly power, flooding lowlying coastal areas. The rains from cyclones are also heavy enough to cause serious flooding, especially along river areas. Long after a cyclone has passed, road and rail transport can still be blocked by floodwaters. Safe lighting of homes and proper refrigeration of food may be impossible because of failing power supplies. Water often becomes contaminated from dead animals or rotting food, and people are threatened with diseases like gastroenteritis. LANDSLIDES Landslides are rock, earth, or debris flows on slopes due to gravity. They can occur on any terrain given the right conditions of soil, moisture, and the angle of slope. Integral to the natural process of the earth's surface geology, landslides serve to redistribute soil and sediments in a process that can be in abrupt collapses or in slow gradual slides. Such is the nature of the earth's surface dynamics. Also known as mud flows, debris flows, earth failures, slope failures, etc., they can be triggered by rains, floods, earthquakes, and other natural causes as well as human-made causes, such as grading, terrain cutting and filling, excessive development, etc. Because the factors affecting landslides can be geophysical or human-made, they can occur in developed areas, undeveloped areas, or any area where the terrain was altered for roads, houses, utilities, buildings, and even for lawns in one's backyard. They occur in all fifty states with varying frequency and more than half the states have rates sufficient to be classified as a significant natural hazard. The U.S. Geological Survey, working with other federal agencies, has efforts underway to study, plan, and mitigate landslide risks. So have some communities across the country. Many deal with landslides as part of flood control, erosion control, hillside management, earthquake hazard mitigation, road stabilization, and other programs. Perhaps the most common reminders of landslide risks are those "Watch For Falling Rocks" highway signs. Although "sliding rocks" is more apt, very few get to see a land slide. Occasionally we see small rocks or debris on the pavement, but a large size slide usually starts with such small incidents. Visually, a landslide resembles a snow avalanche, only with a louder rumbling noise, and is capable of generating enough force and momentum to wipe anything in its path. One such devastating landslide wiped entire towns and villages in Columbia in 1985 when 20,000 died.

The pictures you see on this web site (including the background of this page), are recent examples from around the country. They show what's left after a slide. In some cases, only the rail or pavement is mangled, in others a house or building crushed, but in almost every aftermath, the losses are real, the damages total, and the terrain changes permanent. Landslides cause one to two billion dollars in damage each year in the US and claim as many as fifty lives. That's more devastating than all the other natural hazards combined. They affect utilities, transportation, and all other forms of infrastructure, whether public or private. As development pressures around the country increase, so does the likelihood of building in areas susceptible to landslides. Such areas are neither isolated nor far in-between. They span the entire eastern part of US, from New England to the Appalachian region encompassing some of the most scenic areas in the east as well as large urban areas. Landslide risks loom through them all. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are two examples of urbanized areas with frequent landslides where developments on hills and hillsides are common. In the Great Plains, heavy rains combined with loss of vegetation due to wildfires trigger landslides in clay-rich rocky areas. On the west coast, earthquakes add to the causes of landslides. For example, the 1994 Northridge earthquake triggered many thousand landslides in the Santa Susanna Mountains. In short, no region of the country is safe from landslides, whether caused by geophysical or human-made factors. Although the term landslide is often used somewhat loosely to mean any fairly rapid movement of rocks and sediment downslope, it is actually more accurate to use the term mass wasting to refer to the wide variety of mass movement processes that wear away at the Earth's surface.