Dissecting a hurricane: What makes a superstorm?

Today meteorologists can forecast a hurricane’s track, wind speeds, rainfall, storm surge, and other details days in advance of landfall. “What we do now at five days [out], we dreamed of doing 20 years ago at two days,” says Ken Graham, director of the NOAA National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla.

But there are still gaps in our knowledge of the details of hurricanes. And those nuances could prove crucial to making even more reliable forecasts. So even though the Atlantic hurricane season officially ended on Nov. 30., researchers find ways to study the storms year-round.

One big question that still eludes hurricane scientists is how a hurricane goes from a disorganized tropical storm to a Category 5 monster overnight.

Such rapid intensity change was on clear display during hurricane Michael in October. The storm followed the path predicted by the National Hurricane Center several days ahead of landfall but caught people by surprise when, right before making landfall, the storm ramped up from a Category 2 to nearly a Category 5 storm in less than 24 hours.

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