A Place Where Hurricanes Happen

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For instance, when Hurricane Irma hit Florida in , it made a big difference to the people living there whether the landfall was predicted for the west coast of the peninsula or the east coast of the peninsula. The answer lies in a subdiscipline of mathematics called chaos theory that was developed during the s by a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz.

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It tells us that a very small variation in initial conditions can produce a huge and sometimes unexpected variation in eventual outcomes. Lorenz called this the butterfly effect—imagine a butterfly in Brazil stirring up a tiny amount of air by flapping its wings, influencing a tornado in Texas several weeks later. Of course, we do our best. Today, meteorologists use a range of models as well as their own savvy to make the very best predictions they can. Statistical models aggregate decades of historical data to predict what a hurricane is likely to do based on how past hurricanes have behaved.

Dynamical models use powerful computers to model the atmosphere using equations and data from satellites, on-the-ground measurements, and hurricane flyers. Meteorologists use their expertise to sort through all the data from the field and results from the models, and then they make a prediction.

In addition to predicting where a hurricane will go scientists must also predict to what extent it will intensify, and this too is a tough job.

In general, scientists use data about how warm the ocean is, how much moisture there is in the air, and how consistent the winds are throughout the layers of the atmosphere to determine how much a hurricane will build in intensity. But there are other, smaller processes like thunderstorm formation, rain formation, and ice formation that can affect that intensification process.

Hurricane Michael of , the third strongest storm to hit the continental United States, is a prime example of such intensification. The storm jumped from a Category 2 to a Category 5 in only 24 hours, an intensification that proved to be tough to predict. Researchers from one such study combed through recently translated indigenous Hawaiian newspapers to find references to natural disasters, a process that revealed a reference to the notoriously devastating hurricane in By piecing together damage accounts from across the Hawaiian Islands the historians determined the trajectory and intensity of the hurricane.

Many things can throw a wrench into hurricane track predictions. First described by Japanese meteorologist Fujiwhara Sakuhei in , the Fujiwhara effect occurs when two hurricanes get within miles km of each other. Once they are within that distance, they will rotate around a point directly between their centers, like dancers circling each other. If the storms are about the same size, the interaction might simply alter their trajectories before they break apart.

On the other hand, if one storm is much smaller than the other, then the larger storm might absorb the smaller one once they get close enough. Meteorologists classify tropical cyclones depending on their wind speed. Once the winds reach 74 mph km per hour , the storm graduates to hurricane status. Usually, that is the wind speed necessary for an eye to form in its center.

Meteorologists sort hurricanes into five categories depending on their maximum sustained wind speed. National Hurricane Center. Versions of the Saffir-Simpson Scale are used officially in the U.


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Terrifying Category 5 storms have petered out at sea without doing any human damage at all. When we think of hurricane damage, we tend to think of the way these storms impact people and human infrastructure—and for good reason. But even when hurricanes barely touch humans, they can wreak havoc on the natural world.

Where do hurricanes occur?

A hurricane can leave its mark by rearranging geography. Hurricanes change coastlines, uprooting trees with their powerful winds and moving earth with the force of water. When Hurricane Agnes hit the Chesapeake Bay in , it reconfigured the hydrology of the area, eroding away the mouths of tributaries to the Bay and transporting huge amounts of sediment upstream. In the tropics, new islands can be formed by the accumulation of coral skeletons, and sometimes entire blocks of reef are displaced by the hurricane and deposited on top of the shallow near-shore zone of the reef. When Hurricane Agnes hit the Chesapeake Bay, it decimated the population of oysters and soft-shelled clams in that estuarine ecosystem.

Source 26 p. In the Chesapeake Bay, Agnes severely stressed organisms that lived only in a specific salinity range and lacked the ability to move into a less affected area. Hurricanes may also destroy coastal wetlands Source 51 , reduce the population of submerged aquatic plants—which shelter and feed many aquatic species—and depress the reproduction of fish whose eggs and larvae are washed away.

Coral reefs are particularly prone to hurricane damage because they are shallow-water ecosystems in the tropics. The damage begins with brute-force destruction dealt by high-intensity waves and debris in the water. Hurricanes smash and sweep away corals, and reefs that run perpendicular to the prevailing winds and waves bear the brunt of the impact. When the storm cleared, 80 percent of the corals from that reef had disappeared entirely. The most vulnerable coral species are those with long-delicate branches, one notable example in the Atlantic being the endangered staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis.

In enclosed bays with limited circulation, lowered salinity can kill the corals or stress them by causing them to expel the photosynthetic algae zooxanthellae that feed them. The results of a hurricane impact on a reef can be wide-ranging and long-lasting. When Hurricane Allen hit Jamaican reefs in , it destroyed, overturned and fragmented corals. But for the fragile Acropora cervicornis , the deaths continued.

Instead of reviving, the staghorn coral population collapsed.

In the Caribbean overall, coral populations have a lot of trouble bouncing back after hurricanes, particularly when the ecosystem is already suffering from other human impacts like over-fishing and pollution. Following the year of impact, the rate of coral cover decline is 6 percent a year—higher than the normal decline rate of corals.

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A Place Where Hurricanes Happen - Miss Schoffstall's Weebly

Because corals play a foundational role in the reef ecosystem, their disappearance can make life much harder for other organisms that feed on them or use them for shelter. When hurricanes make landfall, they damage land ecosystems too. In a tropical rainforest, a hurricane can uproot trees, snap their trunks, or denude them of leaves, as was the case in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Hugo in and Hurricane Maria in Because trees, like corals, are foundational to the ecosystem in which they live, dead trees can be bad news.

Still, an impact does alter a forest, notably by clearing space for grasses and faster-sprouting trees. No place emerges from a hurricane completely unscathed. We give them human names, but hurricanes are massive, powerful weather phenomena.

Hurricane Katrina

Although awe-inspiring, they are all too often tragic when they come ashore. But the deadliest storms are not always those that are strongest at landfall. Much depends on us humans: how far in advance we knew the hurricane was coming, how effective our emergency procedures are, and how we have shaped the places that the hurricane hits. Hurricanes kill far fewer people today than they did in the past.

When the Galveston Hurricane hit Texas in , it claimed 8, lives. The Galveston Hurricane has the highest death toll of any hurricane in U. In comparison, Hurricane Katrina in , one of the worst natural disasters in the U.

The bad news is that we are still very vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricanes are among the deadliest of natural disasters. In Southeast Asia, Pacific hurricanes killed people a year on average between and In the U. Note, however, that averages conceal enormous variability. A single hurricane, the Great Bhola Cyclone, killed almost half a million people when it struck Bangladesh in When Hurricane Katrina hit the US in , it accounted for more than 40 percent of the hurricane-related deaths in the entire year period.

Overall, about one percent of the storms that hit the U. Hurricanes kill in multiple different ways. Wind is interestingly responsible for only eight percent of storm-related deaths, at least in the U. This wall of water piles higher and higher as the storm enters the shallow water near the shore, and by the time the hurricane hits, it may flood the land with anywhere from four to more than 18 feet of water.

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Damage depends on the timing of landfall—particularly if a hurricane hits during high tide—and the topography of the coast. The greater the area of shallow water approaching the coast, the larger the storm surge. If the tide is high when the hurricane hits, that also boosts the water level. For Katrina, during which levee failures exacerbated the danger of the storm surge, as well as for other deadly U.