What makes the air warm to begin with? Warmed by the sun's greater intensity at low latitudes, the tropical ocean becomes a source of heat for the atmosphere.
Hurricanes develop in the tropics over seawater that is warmer than 28°C (82°F). The seawater warms the air above it. Hot, humid air then rises, until at higher elevations it cools down. When it cools, the moisture condenses, forming massive cumulus clouds, and a storm is born.
Nor'easters develop a bit differently, but also depend on warm water and warm air for their energy. We'll investigate them later.
Go to the Rutgers University's COOL site Satellite Images page.
Be patient while this downloads. The colorful image of ocean temperature you'll see is made available by oceanographers at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The images are from the NOAA AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer) satellites. The white areas are cold temperatures caused by clouds.
Tracking the factors that fuel coastal storms
Hurricanes develop in the tropics over seawater that is warmer than 28°C (82°F). Are the waters down in the tropical Atlantic (at 25°N latitude, for example) warm enough at this time of year to produce a hurricane?
(To do this, scroll back up to the "Sort by: date" box and enter the August dates. Then, hit "Select" and review the new images. Hurricane Katrina appears as a white area in the first image, scroll down to the image of August 15 and click for a larger view.)
Kevin Goff and Susan Haynes, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Hurricane, Northeaster, Noreaster, Low pressure, Wind barb, Coriolis, Fetch
Natl. Science Standards
IK-1 I5-2 PH5-2 PH5-3 ES5-1 ES5-3 ES9-1 TK-3 PS5-3 PS5-5 PS9-4 PS9-5 PS9-6 NK-1 N9-2
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