Thursday, October 6, 2016

Understanding hurricanes & Matthew's potential

My Facebook feed is full of Hurricane Matthew coverage and understandably so. It looks like this will be the first major hurricane to impact the US in more than 10 years, and the last major hurricanes to strike Florida were Dennis and Wilma (and Wilma was the strongest hurricane on record in the Atlantic basin) in 2005.

There are some important things to keep in mind as we track this major hurricane right along the coast in the coming days. Hurricane formation is key on a few things:
1) Water temperatures of 80 degrees or warmer is key
2) You can't have strong upper level winds, or it will tear the storm apart
3) Dry air in the middle atmosphere will also work against hurricane formation
4) Hurricanes like to be away from friction (i.e. mountains, hills, land masses, etc)

Look at the water temperatures around Florida. They are easily warmer than 80 degrees, and Matthew looks to pass over the Gulf Stream today and tonight. That is a warm channel of water that goes up the East Coast. The warm water is VERY deep too... roughly 300-400 feet deep. So there's more than enough warmth to allow this thing to get stronger.

If you look at the upper air winds, surrounding Matthew, winds are less than 15 mph. So there's not much wind to interfere. Now, I know you are thinking, "well isn't a hurricane full of wind?" Yes! A hurricane is all about wind, but that's down at the ground. The wind can't be in the mid and upper atmosphere. Higher level winds will rip the storm apart.

And finally, the most dangerous part of a hurricane is the right front quadrant. Why? Look at the example graphic. The combination of the forward speed (20 mph) plus the storm winds (100 mph) would give you 120 mph winds on the right side of the storm. On the left side, the storm movement (20 mph) subtracts from the storm winds of 100 mph. So as we watch the storm go along the coast, remember, it's the right side that's the worst.

The official track takes it along the coast, potentially landfall near the Kennedy Space Center. It COULD hook around to the east and then move back toward the Bahamas early next week. Yes! That erratic movement is possible given the steering winds in the upper atmosphere. What a very interesting storm.

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