The Loh Down On Science

Psycho Cyclones

Katrina, Andrew, Ike--it's time to go on a high-salt diet!
 
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, and how tropical cyclones . . . get tamed.
 
Meet researchers from Texas A&M University. They analyzed how the wind speeds of nearly six-hundred tropical storms changed as they pirouetted over the world’s oceans. The team also considered sea surface temperature and salinity, which can vary wildly along a storm’s path.
 
And?  When storms met large patches of no- or low-salt water, they got stronger!
 
Why?  Cyclones feed on seawater--or rather, the heat energy it contains.  However, as they slurp from the surface, they churn the water column below.  Cold water from the deep rises to the top, and the storm should run out of warm food . . . but not quite.  Thick layers of unsalted water hinder mixing.  So the surface stays toasty and Ike presses on. Indeed, the biggest no-salt snacks turn cyclones into psycho-clones with 50 percent more destructive force.
 
Understanding this could improve storm forecasts.
 
Although actually stopping cyclones might take more than a grain of salt.

<em>The Loh Down on Science</em> is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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