Towers In The Tempest

  • Released Wednesday, July 28th, 2010
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:54PM
View full credits

Massive accumulations of heat pulled from the top layers of tropical ocean water and set spinning due to planetary rotation form a hurricane's spiraling vortex. But powering the inside of these storms we find one of nature's most astounding natural engines: hot towers. Scientists discovered hot towers in recent years by observing storms from space and creating advanced supercomputer models to decipher how a hurricane sustains its winding movement. The models show that when air spirals inward toward the eye of a hurricane it collides with an unstable region of air at the eyewall, where the strongest winds are found, and suddenly deflects upwards. This rush of warm, moist air is accelerated by surrounding patches of convective clouds, called hot towers, which strengthen and propel the hurricane by keeping the vertical ring of clouds in motion. Watch the first video below as NASA researchers look under the hood of these cloud super-engines to reveal exciting findings about a hurricane's internal motor.

Understanding how hot towers power hurricanes results in improved storm forecasting models that will ultimately save lives.

Understanding how hot towers power hurricanes results in improved storm forecasting models that will ultimately save lives.

The eyewall updraft (orange) sends air parcels (blue) higher in the atmosphere.

The eyewall updraft (orange) sends air parcels (blue) higher in the atmosphere.

High-altitude towers--some as high as nine miles (15 km)--play a key role in transforming mediocre tropical storms into full-scale tempests.

High-altitude towers--some as high as nine miles (15 km)--play a key role in transforming mediocre tropical storms into full-scale tempests.



Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio