August 1, 2011

Celebrate Peak Hurricane Season with an Easy-to-Make Barometer

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By Mary Kay Carson

Hurricanes are global weather events. They are Earth's most massive storms, stretching as wide as a western state or two. Hurricanes travel and grow, beseeching scientists to track and name them. As the opening of my new book Inside Hurricanes says: "Hurricanes are disasters that have called ahead to say they're coming."

Not all hurricanes are disasters, of course. Nor are all these storms called hurricanes. The universal term is tropical cyclones, which includes hurricanes, cyclones in the Indian Ocean, and typhoons in the Pacific Ocean. Tropical cyclones are storms with a big mission. They help balance the heat budget of our watery world.
Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones start in tropical waters and move their accumulated heat and moisture toward the poles. Many are also important rain makers. Everyone in Texas watched with parched lips as Hurricane Don teased its way toward the drought-suffering state this past week. Don fizzled into a tropical storm before landfall, not delivering much rain to Texas, but also not ruining the cotton harvest. Your good weather isn't necessarily good for me, as they say.

Tropical Storm Don hovers near coast.
The National Weather Service defines Atlantic hurricane season as June 1st to November 30. But August, September, and October is peak time for big storms. That's when ocean temperatures in the Atlantic are highest. Warm water is the fuel that drives these sea storms. As more and more warm seawater evaporates and rises up into the storm, atmospheric pressure at the ocean surface drops. The lower the atmospheric pressure, the stronger the storm.

Below is a simple way to see how air pressure around you changes. It's an easy-to-make barometer, an instrument that measures atmospheric pressure. Enjoy!

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1 comment:

  1. It's fascinating how these large storm systems affect such wide swaths of the planet. I remember a few years ago during a drought in the mid west waiting for a hurricane heading for Texas to find it's way to Ohio and bring us some rain. Thanks for your insight!