Storm’s eye could hold way to gauge in­ten­sity

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS - By Jenny Stale­tovich

MI­AMI >> Hur­ri­cane fore­cast­ers might have a new tool in solv­ing the vex­ing prob­lem of un­der­stand­ing storm in­ten­sity: grav­ity waves.

Grav­ity waves are pro­duced when air mov­ing around the at­mos­phere gets pushed from one place to an­other. In a hur­ri­cane those waves can come in quick, short bursts as pow­er­ful thun­der­storms around the storm’s eye wall swish air up and down like a plunger in a toi­let bowl. Sci­en­tists have long known they ex­ist, mea­sur­ing them in the strato­sphere about 20 or 30 miles above a storm.

Now, for the first time, Univer­sity of Mi­ami sci­en­tists have ven­tured into the heart of the storm, mea­sur­ing the waves where they start.

And early in­di­ca­tions sug­gest wave power re­lates di­rectly to storm power.

“The waves are gen­er­ated in the eye wall, where all the en­ergy is re­leased,” said David Nolan, who re­ported the find­ings with col­league Jun Zhang in the jour­nal Geo­phys­i­cal Re­search Let­ters. “That’s why we think it’s telling us what’s go­ing on with the storm. It’s like noise from the en­gine.”

If the con­nec­tion re­pro­duced on com­puter mod­els proves re­li­able, it could pro­vide hur­ri­cane fore­cast­ers with a new tool in mon­i­tor­ing what re­mains a stum­bling block in hur­ri­cane pre­dic­tions: un­der­stand­ing storm in­ten­sity. Im­proved satel­lites and su­per­com­put­ers that col­lect and process more data faster have al­lowed fore­cast­ers to make huge leaps in nar­row­ing the likely track a storm will take. But how they in­ten­sify, es­pe­cially when cy­clones do it very quickly, con­tin­ues to lag.

Us­ing mea­sure­ments from the waves could also pro­vide a sim­pler and rel­a­tively cheaper way to gather in­for­ma­tion to fine-tune pre­dic­tions be­cause data can be col­lected from buoys in the ocean or weather sta­tions on land.

“Satel­lites are re­ally ex­pen­sive. Planes are re­ally ex­pen­sive. But barom­e­ters are pretty cheap,” Nolan said. “This could be a sep­a­rate, in­de­pen­dent way of keep­ing track of hur­ri­canes and typhoons from a dis­tance.” In ad­di­tion to be­ing cheaper and eas­ier to re­trieve, in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by sur­face mea­sure­ments could also pro­vide a valu­able backup sys­tem for fore­casts that rely heav­ily on satel­lites, which can fail, or hur­ri­cane planes, which can take a long time to reach a storm.

Satel­lites are re­ally ex­pen­sive. Planes are re­ally ex­pen­sive. But barom­e­ters are pretty cheap.” David Nolan Univer­sity of Mi­ami sci­en­tist

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