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What are the characteristics of tropical climates?

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Aug 13, 2015


The tropics receive intense vertical sunlight that drives high temperatures and high evaporation. The presence of moisture from water bodies can cause heavy rains and thick plant growth.


Tropical climates are found at the middle band along the equator between the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. Because these are the areas of the planet where the Sun's rays can strike from directly or nearly overhead at high noon, these areas can become swelteringly and scorchingly hot during daytime. Even the nights can be very warm until early morning.

The cool mornings quickly become warm until the hottest temperatures are reached in early afternoon between 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. Towards the middle and late afternoon, there is less light and heat energy hitting the Earth's surface at that point and the place starts to cool off slightly. It remains warm until early evening after sunset but starts to cool off rapidly until just before sunrise the next day.

At sea, the heat evaporates a lot of water into the lower atmosphere and by mid- to late afternoon, these can form thick cumulus clouds that might become thunderheads (cumulo-nimbus). Rain might fall as quick thunderstorms or as steady downpours depending on the wind patterns and the time of year.

Sometimes the rising air forms low-pressure areas that create "tropical cyclones" (hurricanes, typhoons, and willy-willies) where strong winds and heavy rain can create huge waves on the ocean or destroy terrestrial structures on land through storm surges (high waves), flash floods, and wind battering. Tornadoes and water spouts can also form.

If a tropical area has little precipitation, such as along the "horse latitudes" or behind mountain ranges that cause "rain shadows," small or large deserts can form. If there is more rainfall, either spread out or just seasonally, grasslands and savannas teeming with wildlife spread across the land. If rain is constant throughout the year, nonstop tree growth will form tropical rain forests and thick jungles that are always wet, clouded, and muggy.

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