USA - Study on the Rapid Intensification of Hurricane Michael

Hurricane Michael was the first category 5 storm to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, with the third lowest pressure ever recorded for a landfalling storm in the Atlantic Basin.

Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle near Mexico Beach on October 10th, 2018. A new study, published recently in the American Meteorological Society’s Monthly Weather Review, take a closer look at the rapid intensification of the storm.

NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew multiple missions into Hurricane Michael of 2018.  During each mission conducted by the NOAA P-3s, the ocean temperature was sampled all around the storm as part of a special collaboration with the University of Miami.  The aircraft also released dropwindsondes that measure temperature, humidity, pressure, and wind four times every second as they fall from the aircraft.  Doppler radars on the aircraft measured the wind all around the aircraft as the planes fly through and around the hurricane.  This all allowed researchers to look at the hurricane itself, the ocean below, and the environment around the hurricane all at the same time, to see how warm and cool water below Michael impacted its intensity.

The energy for tropical cyclones comes mainly from the warm ocean below them.  The warmer the water, the greater the energy, and the easier it is to transfer that energy (heat and moisture) into the air and into the tropical cyclone, allowing the thunderstorms that sustain the cyclone to develop.  Cool water (below about 26C/79F) typically limits the tropical cyclone intensity.

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