Tropical Weather Education

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – This Atlantic Hurricane Season we have seen several storms rapidly intensify. The National Hurricane Center defines rapid intensification as maximum sustained winds increasing at least 30 knots (around 34.5 mph) in a 24-hour period.

Research was published out of Dauphin Island Sea Lab that look at a possible correlation between Tropical Storm Gordon and Hurricane Michael’s rapid intensification back in 2018. This possible correlation is called a marine heat wave.

Brian Dzwonkowski, an associate professor of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama and a researcher at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, explains, “It was basically a tropical storm that came through in early September, that was Tropical Storm Gordon. That basically stirred the water column up. That takes the upper heat, if you think about August, the upper ocean is really really warm. Underneath that warm layer is a cold layer.”

So when Tropical Storm Gordon came through in early September, the storm mixed that water column. So instead of warm water on top and cold water underneath, there was a uniform water column that was all the same temperature (warm). Dr. Dzwonkowski goes on to say that after Gordon mixed the water, we had an atmospheric heat wave. So that heat wave heated the surface of the water. So now there was a warm layer on the bottom caused by Gordon and a hot layer on top cause by the atmospheric heat wave. Dr. Dzwonkowski calls this a “super charged ocean battery” that storms can take advantage of with the right atmospheric conditions.

While this research mainly focuses on how the marine heat wave occurred, other research has been done to suggest a link between warm ocean temperatures and storm intensification. So this could be one of many contributing factors to what we saw with Michael strengthening so quickly and what we have seen so far this season.


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