Posts Tagged ‘Hurricanes’

Physics Of Hurricanes: Force Six Hurricanes Someday Soon?

September 18, 2017

There is another powerful hurricane on the way in the Caribbean: Maria now already, category V and strengthening, will hit the large islands of Guadeloupe (population 500,000), Martinique (400,000), and Dominique (75,000) today. Steady winds up to 260 kilometers an hour (150 miles per hour) are already experienced, with gusts at 350 km/h. Meanwhile, long lasting hurricane Jose is still active, out there in the Atlantic ocean.

The physics of hurricane as usually depicted in the media shows what’s going on, but not fully, why it’s going on. Probably because those who write the articles have insufficient understanding. Let’s fill in the cognitive gap.

Overall, a hurricane works like a rotary thermal engine, with a warm source, the warm, moist ocean, and a cold sink (the icy stratosphere, up high). The warm moist air goes up, because it’s lower density than colder air.

Hurricane Physics Improved Notes_170918_121839_3f6_0

The mechanism above depends only upon having a warm source and a cold source (known in thermodynamics as a “Carnot engine”). So one can have Polar Cyclones, or Cyclones on Jupiter (“Great Red Spot”)!

How does it start, why is it self-feeding? If the ocean is warm, many of these large clouds will rise, and dot the ocean. Now the overall rising of warm air creates a low pressure L in the center of a particularly active zone of storms (or “cells”). This is not, per se, exceptional: the entire tropical belt tends to be low pressure, just because the warm air rises more than colder air up north.

That phenomenon creates the trade winds, air from the upper tropical belt which rushes in towards the equator, the “inter-tropical convergence zone” (ITCZ). Because of the rotation of the Earth, the trade winds, which would just go straight south if the Earth didn’t turn, get deflected to the west.

Hurricanes have been piling up in September 2017, from lack of wind shear in the hurricane forming region… Six hurricanes in the Caribbean in 2 weeks… If this keeps up the question of evacuation of many islands arises…

Now let’s go back to hurricane formation. Three or four large cells in the ocean, if close by, will develop a particularly low Low L in the center of the formation. At that point, the cells will tend to gather towards that center. However, the cell closest to the equator will have a greater momentum to the east, thanks to the Earth’s rotation, and the one furthest to the equator, will deviate west. Thus a counterclockwise rotation (in the northern hemisphere) of the set of cells will appear. From conservation of angular momentum, the more the warm air rushes towards the center, the more it tends to rotate (the same effect which makes a skater rotate faster by closing her arms). Next, the cells will merge, a hurricane is formed.

Now the warmer the ocean, the more powerful the rise of air in the middle, the lower the Low L, the greater the rush of air towards the center, and thus the greater the rotating winds. And the greater the winds, the more warm, moist air can rush in from low above the surrounding seas, thus feeding the hurricane.

When part of the frontal edge of the hurricane touches land, or, worse, a mountain range, it loses power in that part (as the power comes from rushing warm, moist air), losing its low there. So naturally the hurricane steers towards areas which can feed it, avoiding large land masses and mountain ranges.

(Thus hurricane steering is reminiscent of how an elementary particle should be steered by the geometry in a future Sub Quantum Mechanics.)

In any case, the hurricane is a rotating engine, whose rotation brings in the warm moist air it uses as fuel. Thus, if the rotation can’t develop, the engine won’t start. And the rotation develops because of the unequal drag of the clouds depending upon how far the equator is (big word: Coriolis Force). In particular, if the clouds cells are astride the equator, they will be equally dragged, and no rotation will occur. Thus, there are no hurricanes around the equator itself.

(The energies involved are enormous: around a ten megaton H bomb every twenty minutes; nuking a grade 5 hurricane would have no effect whatsoever, but for augmenting a bit more the sucking action of the hurricane…)

What of the frequency of hurricanes? The scenario above supposes that the large storm cells can start to rotate. However, the greenhouse augments winds all over. Linear winds, not just rotating winds. It’s a question of equipartition of energy (spreading the energy around in all dimensions available).

Those winds can, and will, shear thunderstorm cells… Just as Saharan sand can collapse them (so stronger trade winds also play against hurricane formation, at least in the Atlantic). Thus hurricanes will tend to form a more ferociously, but not more frequently. What will augment, though, will be the ferocity and frequency of linear storms, and many have ravaged Europe in the last decade.

So far, the Earth has warmed up one degree centigrade, from the anthropogenic greenhouse, since 1800 CE. Another two degrees seems baked in. In the Carboniferous (“Carbon-making”) era, 400 million years ago, the CO2 and the heat were greater. There is also evidence that pretty much all the continents had joined. Yet, there was moisture in the interior of said continents (because there were plants). Moisture, in the sort of climate we know now, should never have penetrated so deep. How come? Super giant hurricanes, obviously. So we can expect force six, or more, hurricanes in the future… It happened before.  

Patrice Ayme

Super Warming, Super Typhoon

November 13, 2013


The exponentially increasing CO2 causes ever accelerating warming. In the last decade, the oceans got in gear, and much of the excess heat in the lower atmosphere went there. Hence the stalling of temperature in the air. That’s what happens when ice melts and water around it stays at zero Celsius; the added energy puts frozen H2O into motion rather than warm up the material.

At the UN climate talks in Warsaw, the head of the Philippines delegation said he will stop eating until “meaningful” progress is made. Interesting idea, CO2 talks in Warsaw: Poland is completely coal dependent.

5 GW Belchatów Coal Thermal Plant Belching Poison

5 GW Belchatów Coal Thermal Plant Belching Poison

To give an idea of the scale of that monster, the towers are 300 meter tall. Built by (French) Alstom, the station makes as much electricity as 5 nuclear power reactors, and generates 20% of Poland’s electricity. It emits 30 million tons of CO2 a year. According to pseudo-ecologists, paid by fossil fuel magnates, that’s much better than 30 millionth of a gram of radioactivity.

There is a giant coal strip mine next to Belchatow. The International Energy Association just announced today that the production of oil, worldwide, will go up 20% in the next 15 years, thanks mostly to fracking. Between fracking and coal, an austere struggle is engaged.

Poland generates 90% of its electricity from coal. And is very happy that way, because coal is so cheap.

Held in parallel in Warsaw: an international coal conference whose goal is “to highlight the role of coal and clean coal technologies”. “Running a coal summit in parallel to UN climate negotiations is beyond absurd. It is like having [Mafia Godfather] Vito Corleone chair a committee on legal reform,” said Mark Breddy of Greenpeace.

Even more weirdly, Poland has actually cut its CO2 emissions by 32 per cent while almost doubling the size of its economy. That’s because the “communist” plutocracy before that was so incredibly dirty. Thus Poland easily respected the Kyoto accord.

This is fun. Reality always beats fiction.

Hurricanes/Typhoons/Cyclones are Carnot engines which use a heat source: warm oceanic water. To generate the effect, one needs, in the tropic, a water temperature of 26 degrees Celsius. In the case of Super Typhoon Haiyan, the temperature was at 27 degrees Celsius in the first 60 meters. An enormous mass of elevated temp water.

The preceding record holder Super Hurricane was Camille, which struck Louisiana in 1969. It had sustained winds just above 300km/h. Haiyan achieved sustained winds just above 312 km/h. Large jets take off between 240 and 285 km/h. So they could have been flown like kites, thanks to Haiyan.

As the power deployed by a fluid passing at speed V is proportional to the cube of V, namely VVV, that means Haiyan’s power was 10% greater than Camille’s.

Haiyan’s peak winds reach the mystical, the Jupiterian. Based on satellite imagery, the U.S.A. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated that Haiyan’s gusts rose to 376 km/h (235 mph). The USA pays close attention to hurricanes ever since the entire Pacific fleet led by admiral Halsey got nearly sunk by one, during World War Two.

It is the third time that a devastating typhoon struck the Philippines in less than 12 months. In August, typhoon Trami brought massive flooding to the island of Luzon. In December 2012, typhoon Bopha killed thousands.

The death toll from Haiyan would have been much bigger had storm warnings not been heeded (although Haiyan built its strength quickly). One million people evacuated. From the wind and the pressure effect that accompany a cyclone, a tidal wave develops. It’s exactly of the same shape and character as a tsunami. Haiyan developed one that was at least 6 meters high, and caused most of the deaths.

Why would such storms get worse in a warming world?

There is no scientific consensus on how to answer this question yet. However some things are clear.

As the cyclones get their energy from the ocean, it would seem logical that they would get stronger, and perhaps also more frequent, as the upper layers of the tropical oceans warm.

Indeed, the intensity of tropical storms does increase with warmer sea-surface temperatures, and one can predict if a hurricane is going to get worse by looking at the temperature of the waters it will pass over. However, there is a general equipartition of energy theorem. As I pointed out:

So warming increases the energy of atmosphere, and some of this goes into sheer winds, namely, shear winds. There is, indeed, an apparent increase in the strength of shear winds, as expected. Those winds blow in different directions and strengths at different altitudes. Shear winds tend to tear apart hurricanes.

However, warmer air carries more water and energy. Thus more and bigger storms, as observed.

Conclusion: in warming tropics, there will be more tropical depressions (predecessors to hurricanes). However, given a depression, it will be less likely to form  into a hurricane. Yet, if they escape destruction from the shear winds, hurricanes will be able to reach much greater power. This is exactly what is observed.

The United Nations’ own IPCC claims the record is not clear. Really? Learn how philosophers establish truth. In 2011, there were two category 5 (maximal) hurricanes. In 2012, there three category 5 hurricanes. In 2013, so far, there has been four  (4!) category 5 hurricanes. What we need is a category 5 hurricane on the Washington mall, for understanding to deepen among the clueless. Coming soon.

Hurricane researcher Kerry Emanuel of the MIT applying to scenarios of historical and future climate six state-of-the-art climate models, forecasts that both the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones will increase during the 21st century in all tropical oceans regions (except the south-western Pacific!). His study was not included in the mushy 2013 IPCC report.

Can we say more? Yes. Most of the warming is at the poles. Warming in the tropics will only be a few degrees Celsius, whereas the poles are heating up, and will completely melt. Hence there will be much more energy in the polar oceans. Thus the storms there, including hurricanes, ought to become much more severe. As observed. Yes, there are Arctic hurricanes (an engine depends only upon temperature differences, not temperatures’ absolute values).

Arctic Hurricane, Eye SW Iceland

Arctic Hurricane, Eye SW Iceland

[Notice that the hurricane is sucking Arctic air from above the polar circle, passing over the north coast of Iceland. There are plenty of pictures of these beasts, but generally there are around sea ice, so, white on white, hard to see; during WWII waves from one of these tore the deck of a British aircraft carrier.]

In August 2012 a giant storm destroyed much of the Arctic icepack, by bringing heat and sheer mechanical destruction. Arctic hurricanes were historically called “Arctic lows“. Nobody had observed their spiral structures from above and they had few (surviving) witnesses. Arctic hurricanes are longer lasting than the tropical kind (because of fewer shear winds), although they get furious much faster, in a few hours (because the temperature gradients are much greater in the Arctic).

This brings another question: if there are tropical hurricanes, and frequent, Arctic hurricanes, all year long, how come there are no temperate hurricanes? (Forget tropical storms that penetrate the temperate zone: there will be more of these.)

The reason is simple: the powerful westerlies which rotate around the planet often at hurricane force, tend to shear any hurricane in formation. When the westerlies go north (as they will), so will hurricanes (let me suggest Washington).

There is geological evidence that, long ago, during a strong greenhouse phase of the world, hyper hurricanes irrigated the interior of a supercontinent. A greenhouse world has warm poles and weaker winds, overall, because of a weaker temperature gradient from equator to poles. Ideal conditions for hyper hurricanes.

Who sows the poison, harvest the fire.


Patrice Ayme


Plea of the Philippines’ delegate at the UN in Warsaw: “To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian Ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels … to the hills of Central America that confront similar monstrous hurricanes, to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water becomes scarce … And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.”

If the problem is not treated pacifically, soon, it will treated horrifically, by war.