National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Tropical Cyclone Structure

The main parts of a tropical cyclone are the rainbands, the eye, and the eyewall. Air spirals in toward the center in a counter-clockwise pattern in the northern hemisphere (clockwise in the southern hemisphere), and out the top in the opposite direction.

In the very center of the storm, air sinks, forming an "eye" that is mostly cloud-free.

Cross section of a typical hurricane.

The Eye

The hurricane's center is a relatively calm, generally clear area of sinking air and light winds that usually do not exceed 15 mph (24 km/h) and is typically 20-40 miles (32-64 km) across. An eye will usually develop when the maximum sustained wind speeds go above 74 mph (119 km/h) and is the calmest part of the storm. 

But why does an eye form? The cause of eye formation is still not fully understood. It probably has to do with the combination of "the conservation of angular momentum" and centrifugal force. The conservation of angular momentum means is objects will spin faster as they move toward the center of circulation. So air increases it speed as it heads toward the center of the tropical cyclone.

One way of looking at this is watching figure skaters spin. The closer they hold their hands to the body, the faster they spin. Conversely, the farther the hands are from the body the slower they spin. In tropical cyclone, as the air moves toward the center, the speed must increase.

However, as the speed increases, an outward-directed force, called the centrifugal force, occurs because the wind's momentum wants to carry the wind in a straight line. Since the wind is turning about the center of the tropical cyclone, there is a pull outward. The sharper the curvature, and/or the faster the rotation, the stronger is the centrifugal force.