Hurricane Formations Are Still a Mystery, New Study to Uncover the Truth

The study found that even small disturbances in the atmosphere could trigger a hurricane.
Fabienne Lang

Hurricane season is rarely a welcome one, but it's an inevitable one. Even though hurricanes have been observed and monitored for years now, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding their formation. 

A team of researchers from Florida State University (FSU) has conducted a study to try and get to the bottom of the matter, and in doing so has discovered that even minimal changes in atmospheric conditions can lead to a hurricane developing. 

Their findings were published in the Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems.


The smallest changes can lead to a hurricane forming

"The whole motivation for this paper was that we still don’t have that universal theoretical understanding of exactly how tropical cyclones form, and to really be able to forecast that storm-by-storm, it would help us to have that more solidly taken care of," said Jacob Carstens, a doctoral student in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at FSU.

Hurricane Formations Are Still a Mystery, New Study to Uncover the Truth
An image of the simulated wind field around a modeled hurricane, Source: Jacob Carstens/FSU

Current theories do already accept that some sort of atmospheric disturbance occurs in order for a hurricane to form. Carstens and the FSU team used numerical models that started with regular conditions, so as to see how changes lead to disturbances. 

As Carstens explained "It’s a way we can further round out our broader understanding and look more purely at the actual tropical cyclones themselves rather than the surrounding environment’s impact on it."

The researchers' simulation started off with regular weather conditions in an imaginary box where the model played out. The team then started adding a small amount of temperature fluctuations to get the model active and noticed how clouds started to form. 

These clouds didn't remain random, they started forming clusters that started circulating through the simulated atmosphere, before becoming hurricanes. The team ensured to create a simulation that depicted areas such as western Africa, northern South America, and the Caribbean — the range where tropical storms usually appear.

In specific latitudes, the team observed that hurricanes would form in every simulation.

Being able to predict how and where hurricanes and storms will form is a major help in preventing deaths, as well as damage control. 

"It’s becoming ever more important in our field that we connect with emergency managers, the general population and other local officials to advise them on what they can expect, how they should prepare and what sorts of impacts are going to be heading their way," Carstens said.

"A more robust understanding of how tropical cyclones form can help us to better forecast their location, their track, and their intensity. It really goes down the line and helps us to communicate sooner as well as more efficiently and eloquently to the public that really needs it."

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