There is nothing I can say scientifically or socially about hurricanes that hasn’t already been said in the past two weeks. So, I won’t try. Many colleagues are much better able to discuss individual hurricanes than I am. While their destructive force can bring and, recently, has brought incomprehensible misery to those living in their path, hurricanes stands out starkly as almost unbelievable. They are fundamentally so different than anything else in meteorology. So much has to go just right in order for a hurricane to form that I think it’s easy to take their existence for granted. Hurricanes need the perfect combination of moisture (which the tropics have plenty of), initial convergence (which, again, the tropics has plenty of), and spin from Earth (yeah, that doesn’t ever change but only occurs in a narrow band near the equator). Yet, hurricanes are remarkably infrequent, even if at the present, they don’t feel that way. Hurricanes are simply a marvel of nature. The strongest often form nearly perfectly circular clouds that stretch for more than 500 miles and winds that howl at over 150mph interrupted only at their center by cloud-free quiescent air in their stadium-like eye. Hurricanes are amazingly simple: they can be described well with just a few equations derived from simple mechanical physics. Yet, hurricanes are amazingly complex: the world’s best computer models still fail to simulate their growth and decay with the desired fidelity. Hurricanes are often symmetric yet made up of turbulent, chaotic, transient flows. They’re almost unbelievable.
I wish all my friends and colleagues back in Miami the best of luck this weekend.