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The nameless hurricane

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  • David
    April 2, 2004: Hurricanes are terrifying. They rip trees right out of the ground, hurl cars into the air, and flatten houses. Their winds can blow faster than
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5 6:31 PM
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      April 2, 2004: Hurricanes are terrifying. They rip trees right out of
      the ground, hurl cars into the air, and flatten houses. Their winds
      can blow faster than 100 mph. Some hurricanes have been known to pull
      a wall of water from the ocean 20 feet high … then fling it inland,
      inundating miles of coast. No other storms on Earth are so destructive.

      Or so memorable. The most powerful hurricanes are talked about for
      decades, long after the floods subside and trees grow back. What child
      in Mississippi today hasn't heard of Hurricane Camille, the monster
      storm that traumatized their parents in 1969? Hurricanes are the only
      storms we actually name, like people, to help us remember.

      Naming hurricanes also helps prevent confusion. Sometimes there are
      two or more of the storms raging at the same time. Weather forecasters
      and storm trackers use names like Camille, Hugo and David to clarify
      which storm they're talking about. For these reasons, every hurricane
      gets a name. Always.

      That is, until last week, on March 28th, when a nameless hurricane
      crashed into Brazil. The storm made landfall near Torres, a small town
      in the state of Santa Catarina about 500 miles south of Rio de Janeiro.

      "This really caught everybody off guard," says NASA hurricane
      researcher Robbie Hood. "Hurricanes aren't supposed to be in that part
      of the world."

      Weather satellites have been circling Earth for more than 40 years.
      During that time they've spotted hurricanes (also called "typhoons" or
      "cyclones") in the northern Atlantic Ocean, and on both sides of the
      equator in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but never before in the
      south Atlantic.

      "Vertical wind shears in the south Atlantic are too strong for
      hurricanes," Hood explains. Winds in the upper troposphere (about 10
      km high) are 20+ mph faster than winds at the ocean surface. This
      difference, or shear, rips storms apart before they intensify too much.

      A typical hurricane starts out as a cluster of ordinary thunderstorms.
      Powered by heat from warm tropical waters and guided by Coriolis
      forces, the storms swirl together, joining forces to create a tropical
      depression...then a tropical storm...and finally a full-fledged
      hurricane. Wind shears in the south Atlantic usually stop this process
      at the stage of tropical depression.

      There are exceptions. In 1991, for instance, the US National Hurricane
      Center documented a tropical storm off the coast of Congo. It lasted
      about five days as it drifted toward the central south Atlantic, but
      it never reached hurricane strength. (The minimum threshold for a
      hurricane is 74 mph winds.)

      What was different about the March 2004 storm? Why did it become a
      hurricane? No one knows.

      When the storm crashed into Brazil, local observers weren't even sure
      it was a hurricane. Brazil has no ground-based network of weather
      stations to measure wind and rain from tropical storms. "There are no
      'Hurricane Hunters' in Brazil," adds Hood. "The storms are so rare."

      Space satellites, however, gathered a great deal of data. "NOAA polar
      orbiting satellites measured the temperature of the storm's eye," says
      climate scientist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama,
      Huntsville. "That told us how fast the winds were moving." It was a
      category 1 hurricane, he says, an estimate confirmed by NASA's
      wind-measuring QuikScat satellite. In addition, NOAA's GOES satellites
      and NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites took pictures of the storm at
      microwave, infrared, and visible wavelengths, allowing scientists to
      monitor the motions of moisture and heat energy through the storm -
      valuable data, indeed.

      The TRMM spacecraft, a joint mission of NASA and the Japanese space
      agency, flew over the storm several times in the days before landfall,
      and it gathered perhaps the most revealing data of all. TRMM, short
      for Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, carries a precipitation
      radar, the only one in space. Beaming down through the clouds, the
      radar illuminated spiraling bands of rainfall; false color images of
      the storm resemble a pinwheel galaxy! Combining data from the radar
      and the spacecraft's microwave imager, researchers can estimate rain
      rates throughout the hurricane - from top to bottom, from eye to edge.

      "This whole episode highlights the advantages of satellites for
      hurricane studies, especially where there are no aircraft standing by
      to fly through the storms," says Hood. "Satellites can monitor storms
      in all parts of the world."

      But a problem remains: what to call them? The World Meteorological
      Organization maintains a list of hurricane names for every part of the
      world … except the south Atlantic. Sadly, the March 28th storm did
      damage to remember: 500 homes ruined, fishing boats sunk, at least two
      people dead and 1500 more homeless. Brazilians are going to be talking
      about the storm for a long time, and wondering about hurricanes to come.

      South Atlantic hurricanes need names. Somebody somewhere, probably, is
      making a list.

      See this link for the pics that go with the story :
      http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/gsfc/earth/pictures/2004/0326brazilcyclone/032604b=
      razilcyclone_highres.jpg

      Be sure to take a look at this. It is a very large download, but WELL
      worth the wait. If you look closely, you can see the ocean swells
      associated with the storm. Incredible!

      http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/gsfc/earth/pictures/2004/0326brazilcyclone/032604b=
      razilcyclone_highres.jpg
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