Understanding the Strength of Tropical Storms: Pressure, Winds, and Surge

One week ago today, Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana…a community whose residents are no stranger to the devastation of tropical storms. Category 3 Hurricane Audrey caused over 300 deaths in the small town in 1957, and nearly 50 years later, the town was struck again. While everyone fortunately evacuated before Category 5 Hurricane Rita, the storm devastated the town in September 2005. Then, in the midst of recovery from Rita, in came Hurricane Ike, leveling the town with a 12 foot storm surge. Ike destroyed over 90% of the homes within the parish and caused catastrophic flooding in every part of the parish. The damage sustained by both Rita and Ike led to stricter building codes and higher insurance costs, leading to the town’s dramatic reduction in population – from 1,965 people in 2000 to just 406 in 2010.

Credit: NOAA
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Book Recommendation: Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

Has anyone else been doing a lot of reading lately? I love to read, and I read all different types of books, but my favorites are historical fiction and biographies. When I came across this book, I knew I wanted to read it immediately. The National Weather Service awards the Isaac M. Cline award “to individuals and teams who have made significant contributions in support of the National Weather Service. The award is named in honor of Isaac M. Cline, one of the most recognized employees in National Weather Service history.” Although I was well aware of the award, I knew very little about the man for which it was named prior to reading the book.

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Hurricanes and Mental Health

Research shows that mental illnesses are common in the United States, with nearly one in five adults living with a mental illness. Extreme weather events can impacts mental health in several ways, both in immediate anxiety-related responses, as well as chronic mental health disorders. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD; a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically occurring in the winter months) leads to insomnia, anxiety, and agitation. Flooding and prolonged droughts have been associated with with elevated levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). Tropical cyclones are no exception and can wreak havoc beyond the images of flattened buildings, uprooted trees, and flooded streets that take over news coverage.

A home in Gulfport, Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy NWS New Orleans/Baton Rouge.
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Connection Between Earth’s Temperature and Hurricane Strength

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins in four days, although we’ve already had our first named storm – Tropical Storm Arthur. Tropical cyclones are among nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena, and scientists are growing more confident that the increase in Earth’s surface temperatures is impacting the intensity of tropical cyclones. A new collaborative study that further explored this hypothesis was published last month by scientists from the Center for Weather and Climate (NOAA/NCEI) and the Cooperative Insitute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at the University of Wisonsin-Madison.

A NOAA GOES East satellite captured this shot of Hurricane Dorian fifteen minutes before making landfall over Cape Hatteras, North Carolina at 8:35 AM EDT Friday, September 6, 2019. Image courtesy NOAA NESDIS.
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A Look Back at Hurricane Michael

Three hundred and sixty-five days have passed since Hurricane Michael crashed into the Florida Panhandle, causing utter devastation. Michael made history as the first Category 5 hurricane (the highest category of the Saffir-Simpson scale with winds over 157 miles per hour) to make landfall in the Unites States since Andrew in 1992. It was also the first Category 5 hurricane on record to impact the Florida Panhandle.

Hurricane Michael beginning to make landall on October 10, 2018. Courtesy NASA
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Turn Around, Don’t Drown

This is it. We are in the peak of hurricane season. So far, we have had 12 named storms. We all know to prepare for and be wary of strong hurricanes, but even “weak” tropical systems can wreak just as much havoc. It’s important to remember that a tropical system’s strength is categorized solely by wind speed, but that flooding associated with a system (regardless of winds) can cause catastrophic impacts as well.

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Hurricane Dorian: A study in hurricane impacts

At the time of this writing on Tuesday, September 2, Hurricane Dorian is currently bringing heavy rain, winds and storm surge to the Bahamas as it makes its slow trek towards the eastern U.S. coastline. This storm has proven to be very difficult to forecast, in part because of its rapid intensification and slow speed. Let’s look back and see how this dangerous situation evolved and where the forecast impacts are expected in the next 3-5 days.

Satellite imagery of Hurricane Dorian over the Bahamas, September 1, 2019.
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Gulf of Mexico Tropical Disturbance/DC Floods/Flood Safety

You may have heard on the news this week that there is a potential tropical system which is forecast to form in the Gulf of Mexico over the next day or two. Satellite imagery shows a broad area of convection over the Florida panhandle and southern Alabama. This convection will be drifting slowly westward over the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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