A mature hurricane with a well-defined eye wall is one of the most spectacular images to look at. The eye that shows up in mature hurricanes represents the center of the storm. Counterintuitively to some, the eye represents an area of the hurricane where there is little to no precipitation, the sun or stars can be visible for a time, and the winds are light. Also within the eye is the lowest barometric pressure associated with the hurricane.
The eye of a hurricane can range in size from about 5 miles (8 km) up to as wide as 120 miles (200 km) in diameter; however, a typical size is usually about 20-40 miles (30-60 km). Immediately surrounding the eye is the eyewall which where the greatest impacts such as the strongest winds and some of the heaviest rain exist.
The meteorological process around the eye of a hurricane is not fully understood; however, below the process is broken down from what we know or hypothesis as simply as possible:
1. Air will rapidly rise in a counterclockwise fashion around the center of a hurricane. This is the cause for the strong winds, heavy rain and thunderstorms around the center of a hurricane.
2. Given a sufficient environment, this circular ribbon of rapidly rising air will expand outward into a circular wall known as an eyewall.
3. As air continues to rise rapidly causing the ongoing heavy convection in the eyewall, there is a pocket of air immediately inside of the eyewall of the hurricane that sinks toward the water or ground. Sinking air is associated with a lack of or suppression of convection and heavy rain.
4. The sinking air that occurs immediately inside the eyewall is when the eye of the hurricane will start to appear visible on satellite imagery.
The eye of a hurricane can last anywhere from a couple of hours to several days if the environment remains favorable.
As a mature hurricane begins to encounter a more unfavorable environment or interact with land, the complex processes that go into forming the eye of a hurricane are disrupted. This will ultimately lead to the eyewall collapsing and the eye of the hurricane filling in with convection and wind.
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