DISCUSSION: In looking back to August 2017 and the Atlantic hurricane season, there is no debate that one of the events which stood out among the rest quite a bit was Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Harvey is arguably most remembered for its impacts with respect to the major flooding the storm delivered in and around the city of Houston, Texas. However, the other major aspect of Hurricane Harvey which made headlines for quite a while was how the storm rapidly intensified from a Category 3 to a Category 4 just before making landfall in southeast Texas. There continued to be substantial interest in this topic which inspired and ultimately led to more comprehensive research on the issue from both academic institutions as well as various weather and climate research agencies. The main conundrum is the fact that as hurricanes approach shallower coastal waters and continue to induce substantial oceanic mixing, this brings up much cooler water which often helps to weaken the storm or stabilize any further intensification. However, this is not what transpired with Hurricane Harvey and hence, the reason for why much further research was needed. One such example of this research came from a research group over at Texas A&M University.
In this research, “They found the Bight was warm all the way to the seabed before Harvey arrived. Strong hurricane winds mix the ocean waters below the storm, so if there is any cold water below the warm water at the surface, the storm's growth will slow. But there wasn't any cold water for Harvey to churn up as it neared the coast, so the storm continued to strengthen right before it made landfall, according to the study's authors.
"When you have hurricanes that come ashore at the right time of year, when the temperature is particularly warm and the ocean is particularly well-mixed, they can absolutely continue to intensify over the shallow water," said Henry Potter, an oceanographer at Texas A&M and lead author of the new study in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.
The researchers don't yet have enough temperature data to say if the Texas Bight was unusually warm in 2017. But the findings suggest hurricane forecasters may need to adjust the criteria they use to predict storm intensity, according to Potter. Forecasters typically use satellite measurements and historical data to make intensity predictions, but Harvey's case shows they need data collected from the ocean itself to know exactly how much heat is there, where that heat is located in the water column and if it's easily accessible to the storm, Potter said.”
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© 2019 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz