Once more into the storm

Hurricane researchers return, asking new questions. 


IN SEPTEMBER 2010, more than a hundred scientists watched and waited as a tropical depression hovering over the Caribbean Sea swirled and formed into Tropical Storm Karl. Two days later, as the storm quickly intensified into a Category 3 hurricane near Mexico, the scientists pounced. Three aircraft with their payloads of sensors flew right into Karl to profile the storm’s innards—violently rotating wind and clouds, and torrential rains that fell on the southern bend of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Karl may just be one of the most studied hurricanes ever,” said meteorology professor Ed Zipser at the University of Utah, who was on the DC-8 aircraft and in the churning hurricane that day. Zipser and his colleagues hope that the data they collected from Karl, as well as from several other storms during the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, will help them illuminate a dark secret of hurricanes. Just what is it that makes a storm like Karl rapidly intensify into powerful hurricane in such a short time? And what makes others fizzle out?

Originally published in Sensing Our Planet: NASA Earth Science Research Features. Read the full story here.

Image courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC.