Hurricanes are a type of tropical cyclone, the generic term for a low pressure system that generally forms in the tropics.
All Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas are subject to hurricanes or tropical storms. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, with the peak season from mid-August to late-October.
Tropical storms become hurricanes when winds reach a constant speed of 74 mph or more. Hurricane winds blow in a large spiral around a relatively calm center known as the "eye." The "eye" is generally 20 to 30 miles wide, while the storm may extend outward 400 miles.
As a hurricane approaches, the skies will begin to darken and winds will grow in strength, and it can bring torrential rains, high winds and storm surges. A single hurricane can last for more than two weeks over open waters and can run a path across the entire length of the eastern seaboard.
With winds that can exceed 155 mph, hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to coastlines and several hundred miles inland. Hurricanes and tropical storms can also spawn tornadoes and micro-bursts, create storm surges along the coast and cause extensive damage from heavy rainfall.