ASK TOM: What is the difference between a hurricane and a superstorm?

Dear Tom,

What is the difference between a hurricane and a superstorm?

– Cindy Luna, Deerfield


Dear Cindy,

A hurricane has spiral bands rotating around a relatively clear, calm center called the eye.  With air sinking in the eye and warming through compression, the hurricane is a warm-core system that has warm air present on all sides. Sandy transformed from a hurricane to a superstorm when it tapped cold air over the eastern U.S., drawing it into its circulation and actually producing snow on its western flank. The system quickly lost its tropical characteristics and was dubbed a superstorm, a name reflecting its immensity and strength. Even though the superstorm’s 90-mph peak winds were not as strong as a major hurricane (111+ mph), its sheer size allowed it to inflict damage over a huge area.