Breaking Down the Science of a Hurricane

Alexander-Lakhanpal-hurricane

Hurricane season has devastated communities this year along the Caribbean Sea. Puerto Rico, Florida, and even the Bahamas felt the wrath of these powerful storms. With the number of storms increasing during the season, paired with unprecedented wind strength, understanding the science of how these storms form and why they are so strong.

 

Hurricane 101

It takes various different circumstances for a powerful hurricane to form. If one small ingredient is missing, a storm that could destroy a city can be turned into a rainy day with big clouds. Tropical cyclones, which is an umbrella term for tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes need the basic ingredients to form. A preexisting thunderstorm, warm water, humid air, and light winds must all be present to be the foundation for a hurricane. These mighty storms need fuel, and that fuel is heat from the ocean. When the surface of the ocean rises to 80°F, that is when trouble begins.

The moisture in the air is what fuels the thunderstorm needed and the winds cannot be strong enough to hinder the shaping of the hurricane. When all of these factors meet up perfectly is when a power thunderstorm is able to take off. Depressions are normally the spark of growing into something greater.

 

This 2017 Season

This hurricane season has proved to be one of the most aggressive in the history of weather. Not since 2005, the top busiest year for Atlantic hurricanes with 28 storms, has the U.S. been affected by this many storms. This season alone has had 13 identified storms so far. For this season to be put into the books for the top 15 hurricane years, it needs two more named storms by November 30th, 2017.

The true source, specifically, for this year’s intense season is due to the Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO). We are currently in the warm phase of the AMO which allows for a lack of vertical wind shear paired with increased surface temperatures on the ocean. This creates frequent storm developments. This warm AMO phase has been active since 1995 and prior to the was a cold phase the lasted between the years 1971 to 1994.

The other factor that is making this season so brutal is its ability to direct itself so well. An area of dominant subtropical high pressure, known as the “Bermuda High” is located above the Atlantic. It forces winds to turn clockwise and pushes them to directly hit towards the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the east coast. It is essentially a steering wheel towards land.

Current NASA News

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been announcing groundbreaking strides in understanding more of space, other planets, and how the earth functions so efficiently. NASA continues to push the field of science further and further to collect more data of the unexplored. Here are some of NASA’s upcoming plans that have recently been announced.

 

Touch the Sun?

The space agency has announced that it has plans of a mission to create and launch a probe to get closer to the sun than ever before. They anticipate the probe to come within 3.9 million miles of the sun, which has never been done before. The mission is set to depart in the summer of 2018. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is set to handle environments of over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit paired with extreme solar radiation.

The purpose of this mission is to take away data regarding the trace of energy that sources the corona and solar winds. As well, NASA is looking to find more specific information about the magnetic fields and plasma structures from the solar winds. The goal of the probe’s mission is to circle the sun 24 times between the years of 2018 through 2024.

 

Artificial Clouds

NASA has recently released colored artificial clouds on the East Coast of the United States. They released faux blue, green, and red clouds in June of 2017 to test a new system that will aid scientists with studying the auroras of the ionosphere.

Essentially, NASA launched a small sub-orbital rocket off of the coast of Virginia that released fist-sized canisters filled with vapor tracers into the atmosphere. These canisters may appear as colorful clouds. The canisters, or tracers, are made of vapors of lithium, barium and tri-methyl aluminum that react with other elements in space, which create the glow. This glow is to visually trace the flow of the particles throughout space.

 

A Hole on Mars?

One of earth’s closest neighboring planets, Mars, has shown a new, giant hole on the surface of the planet. This abnormally deep crater is a bit larger than Mars’ normal swiss cheese surface. NASA has yet to find the source of this new pit formed on Mars but there are many reasons for holes to be formed on Mars’ terrain from meteorite impacts to collapsing lava tubes.

New Defense Against Extraterrestrial Threat

Hollywood films have been preoccupied with the idea of comets and asteroids threatening our very existence for a long time. From blockbusters like Armageddon and Deep Impact to art films like Melancholia, the threat of space debris destroying the earth is a surprisingly common theme.

These kinds of films tend to display very creative interpretations of fact and dramatize this potential threat from space in order to keep viewers interested.

However, it is interesting to note that the US government is beginning to catch up to the plots of these films by announcing an agreement to begin working on planetary defense.

The nation’s agencies that build civilian rockets and nuclear arms revealed on Wednesday  that they will collaborate in order to deflect asteroids and comets that pose a threat to cities or possibly the planet.

For years both NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration — have researched threats of rocky debris from space independently. Both have assessed the space debris, proposed new designs for rocket interceptors and run computer simulations to test if a nuclear blast could force a massive asteroid onto a different trajectory.

Even so, this new interagency pact will formalize the cooperation between the two. The hope is that the two agencies will now be able to better coordinate governmental planning that would lead to better solutions for deflecting this kind of threat.

Alex LakhanpalIn 2013,  a 7,000-ton meteoroid exploded over a city in Russia which injured approximately 1500 people. This tragedy in Chelyabinsk illustrates the potential risk of cosmic debris.

Scientists who prefer nuclear-free  methods of asteroid interception admit that the atomic method would only be necessary if a huge threat appeared too fast for weaker countermeasures

In public interviews officials refuse to comment on whether or not any arms in the nation’s nuclear arsenal have been set aside for countering extraterrestrial strikes. However, it is acknowledged that there is a discussion surrounding possible nuclear options.

Regardless of the true threat of rock debris crashing into our planet and causing large-scale damage, it is encouraging to see government agencies working together in an effort to combat this kind of potential threat in the future. To learn more, see this article from the New York Times.