Destructive Hurricane Twins

Harvey and Irma


Hurricane Harvey.

Morgan Whitacre, Reporter

These two twisty tyrants whose names are Harvey and Irma have caused destruction in the world and effectively made headlines across the United States. Let’s look into what made these hurricanes (Harvey & Irma) newsworthy from what they are and how they work, to how they got their names, their journey around the world, and how society discovered them.

Harvey and Irma are hurricanes better known as a tropical cyclone which consists of an eye, rainbands, and a storm surge. The eye is the area of low air pressure located at the center of the storm that is normally 20-30 miles wide in diameter. Expanding from the center of the hurricane you can find the rainband which is the powerful thunderstorm that spirals outward from the eye. Then comes the storm surge which is a wall of water that surrounds the inner sections (eye & rainband) and can cause severe flooding. A hurricane is fueled by warm ocean water, in fact, it’s the most important factor to the start of a hurricane. Without the warm ocean water the hurricane wouldn’t be able to continuously gain speed and momentum. When the warm ocean water is combined with scattering wind patterns it begins to spiral inward causing the eye to form. The pressure then pushes the seas surface up into the storm creating the storm surge thus creating a hurricane.

The World Meteorological Organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland, have the privilege of naming the hurricanes each year. They have a specific naming system that originally was created to simplify communications when relaying information. Instead of sending coordinates of longitude and latitude they can now recognize the tropical cyclone by it’s name. The naming system will either start with a female or male name in which the gender will rotate throughout the list in alphabetical order. If there are more than 21 hurricanes in a year then the storms will be named after Greek alphabet characters such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc. For more information of the naming system review Hunter Watson’s article “What’s in a Name.”

Harvey’s beginning in life can be located back to a tropical wave that emerged from the African coast in early August, but Harvey was officially categorized as a tropical cyclone at a destination east of Lesser Antilles on August 17th. Fortunately Harvey came into contact with dry air and unforgivable winds in the eastern Caribbean which caused the National Hurricane Center to cease advisories on August 19th. Even though Harvey slowed down and separated into multiple sections Harvey continued to push to the North crossing over Mexico’s Yacatan Peninsula. Harvey had made it back to water around the southwest Gulf of Mexico and quickly formed into a tropical depression on August 23rd. Within 56 hours Harvey amazingly grew from a regenerated tropical depression into a category 4 hurricane as it made its landfall near Texas, Gulf Coast lake on August 25th.

Irma also began her life off the coast of Africa, but wasn’t recognized as a hurricane until the 30 of August. The very next day Irma became a category 3 hurricane on August 31. It wasn’t long after that, that Irma slid into the category 5 position and wreaked havoc on the caribbean islands. She then came to Florida and made landfalls twice at a place called Keys and another destination called Marco Island. Irma was recognized for being one of five hurricanes to reach maximum wind speeds at 185mph for 37 hours. Irma tied with the Cuba Hurricane of 1932 for the longest lifetime as a category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Basin.

The population discovers these tropical cyclones with satellites, radar, reconnaissance aircrafts, and personal sightings. Before we launched the first satellite (TIROS) in 1960 we relied on ships and tropical island weather observations as well as coastal radars. We use a specific kind of radar called a Doppler Radar. Doppler Radars can detect rain from 200-250 miles away from their destination. The newest generation of the Doppler Radar can provide forecast, rain intensity, movement of storms, whether a tornado or hurricane is active, and can estimate the wind speeds. The reconnaissance aircraft fly into the storm and relay information using and device called a dropsondes. Dropsondes are like radio instruments, they record wind speeds and directions, air pressure and temperature, as well as altitude of each quality.

Harvey and Irma caused great destruction across the world but they allow us to gather more information and further our research about tropical cyclones.