Image: Hurricanes
NOAA/NASA GOES Project.
Three storms swirling in the Gulf and Atlantic
OurAmazingPlanet
updated 9/15/2010 4:43:35 PM ET 2010-09-15T20:43:35

With three storms swirling in the Gulf and Atlantic today (Sept. 15), there are many questions spinning in peoples’ minds about hurricanes — just how many can there be at one time and can they ever run into each other and form a super-hurricane?

Here, a few facts about some crazy hurricane occurrences.

What's the highest number of hurricanes there have ever been at one time in the Atlantic Basin?

Four hurricanes are the most storms that have occurred simultaneously, and that has happened on two occasions.

The first occasion was Aug. 22, 1893, and one of these eventually killed 1,000 to 2,000 people in Georgia and South Carolina. The second occurrence was Sept. 25, 1998, when Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl all persisted to Sept. 27, 1998 as hurricanes. Georges ended up taking the lives of thousands in Haiti.

In 1971, from Sept. 10 to 12, there were five tropical cyclones (the name that encompasses hurricanes and tropical storms) at the same time; however, while most of these ultimately achieved hurricane intensity, there were never more than two hurricanes at any one time.

What is the highest number of hurricanes that have occurred in a single season?

Fourteen hurricanes formed in 2005, including a rare December hurricane known as hurricane Epsilon after the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet. Nominally, the Atlantic hurricane season ends on Nov. 30 (and begins on June 1).

The 2005 hurricane season saw a whopping 27 named storms (including hurricanes and tropical storms) and was the first time U.S. hurricane experts have run out of traditional names for storms in the history of weather-record keeping, forcing the move to naming storms after the letters of the Greek alphabet. The final storm of the season was Tropical Storm Zeta.

Can hurricanes run into each other and become one giant storm?

During the 1995 hurricane season, Hurricanes Humberto and Iris flirted with each other before Iris ditched Humberto and merged with Tropical Storm Karen.

Such mergers are governed by the Fujiwhara Effect. When two swirling storm vortices approach each other, the smaller storm will orbit around, and sometimes be consumed by, the larger one. The effect is greatest when the storms are within 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) of each other and are at tropical storm strength (defined as a storm with winds of 39 mph, or 63 kph) or stronger.

Which tropical cyclone lasted the longest?

Hurricane Ginger in 1971 lasted for 28 days, but hurricane researchers note that hurricanes that occurred before the weather satellite era (before 1961) could have lasted longer than current estimates.

What is the farthest a tropical cyclone has traveled?

Hurricane Faith in 1966 spun around the Atlantic for 6,850 miles (12,700 km).

Can hurricanes ever spin "backwards"?

All hurricanes rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, owing to Earth's rotation about its axis, which causes the planet to slip under the wind, effectively curving it in one direction. In the Southern Hemisphere, a cyclone rotates clockwise, however. Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are the same types of systems — the names are different depending on where they form.

Until 2004, no hurricanes had ever been recorded in the Atlantic Ocean south of the equator. Then hurricane Catarina slammed into Brazil, providing a rare glimpse at a "backward" Atlantic hurricane.

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