A remote Hawaiian island was completely wiped off the map after one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Pacific, Hurricane Walaka, barreled through the most northwestern islands of the state.
The French Frigate Shoals is part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii’s Northwestern Islands was home to East Island, a small yet ecologically vital island. The island was wiped off the map after the destructive Category 4 hurricane washed the sediments associated with the island north over a nearby coral reef. The island is extremely important to local marine life, including Hawaiian green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals. Almost 100% of Hawaiian green sea turtles breed in the French Frigate Shoals, and roughly half of that percentage would breed on East Island.
Hawaiian monk seals also nurtured their pups on East Island. There are approximately 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals in the state; over 1,000 live in Hawaii’s Northwestern Islands. These animals are considered critically endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Charles Littnan, a conservation biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), told the Honolulu Civil Beat that it is impossible to tell what the effects of the loss of habitat will be on both the monk seals and sea turtles since most of the sea creatures had left the island for the season.
The odd thing about the disappearance of East Island is scientists had predicted that East Island would probably be underwater in future decades. However, they expected this to be a slow process. Instead, a Category 4 hurricane did the damage overnight. It is unclear whether the storm was made stronger due to climate change, according to Randy Kosaki, NOAA’s deputy superintendent for research and field operations at Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. What can be concluded, however, is that as oceans get warmer, hurricanes will be provided with more energy to strengthen. Through the process of Wind Induced Surface Heat Exchange, or WISHE, tropical cyclones gain strength via latent and sensible heating from the warm ocean waters. No specific hurricane can be attributed to climate change, however it is possible that stronger hurricanes will occur more frequently.
It may seem safe to say that as long as these hurricanes hit sparsely-populated areas of the world such as East Island then civilization should be fine. A disruption of oceanic ecology, however, will prove just as dismal for the future of human civilization. If the effects of Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael have taught society anything, it is that attention must be towards the extreme strength of natural disasters. If a whole society is aware of the perils of natural disasters, we can adapt to more extreme disasters and minimize the aftermath.
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©2018 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger
DISCUSSION: As of earlier this evening, there were several rather intense tropical cyclones spinning in different ocean basins around the world. However, among all these tropical cyclones, there was one particularly interesting tropical cyclone among the large global cluster of ongoing storms. This particularly interesting tropical cyclone was Hurricane Sergio. Even though Hurricane Sergio is only a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Intensity scale as of tonight, there was something rather interesting and profound which occurred tonight as this storm was intensifying.
This particularly neat aspect of Hurricane Sergio this evening was the fact that the deep convection which fired on the eastern half of the inner core of Hurricane Sergio has cloud-top temperatures as cold as around -90°C. This is significant in the context of an intensifying tropical cyclone since it is not all that often that one will observe core convection have such cold cloud-tops even during periods of rapid intensification which it did not appear was occurring in association with Hurricane Sergio as of the past few hours. Having said that, it is worth noting that even without a period of rapid intensification occurring with a given tropical cyclone, you can still get very deep, intense convection at times. This situation which is captured both in the image attached above as well as the brief animated gif of the period during which this deep convection “explosion” occurred.
What is most impressive about this convective burst on the eastern half of Hurricane Sergio is the fact that it occurred very unexpectedly with no forecasts being reasonably certain that this sort of convective burst would occur at the time it did. That being said, by the same token, it should also be noted that this storm had been moving over sea-surface temperatures greater than 26°C which is warm enough to support the intensification of tropical cyclones. Nonetheless, this just goes to show that there is still much for atmospheric science to learn about tropical cyclones to be able to make further improvements to tropical cyclone intensity forecasting.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz