How to describe what it feels like to be in a hurricane
Recent reports of the terrifying weather events in the Caribbean and US have exposed us to instances of humans trying to describe a hurricane wind (many would argue that getting mainstream US media to cover the causes rather than the effects of extreme weather would be a great advantage).
The Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale describes the effects on structures and people, but not what it would feel like. Hearing is the sense most frequently invoked, with winds sounding like a train or a low howl.
Clearly wind detection is not one of the five classical senses. It is only recently that the anatomy of wind detection in the fruit fly has been discovered. Wind generates vibrations which are generally processed like touch, but it seems that for insects at least, it’s the hearing circuits that are best placed to decode these signals.
Of course, the most basic response to these events is fear and awe. Our brain generates the fear and that triggers the gut, which feeds back to the brain. The sensation is really part of an indirect loop. If the hurricane struck your body directly that would be a very different story.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London