To See the Birth of an Atlantic Hurricane, Look to Africa

from Wired

THE WINTER CRUSHED the East Coast of the US. So let us crush your dreams of spring with a gentle reminder: Hurricane season is right around the corner. And the hurricanes that will slam into the Atlantic seaboard in just a couple of months are already glints in the eyes of storms-yet-to-be-born in Africa. 

The Atlantic hurricane season officially kicks off in June, but it starts over the Sahara. In the Sudanese highlands—the same place the Nile begins—sun-heated air bubbles upward and condenses into mushroom-shaped thunderheads thousands of miles high. At the same time, enormous waves of air in the upper atmosphere push those storms west, toward the Atlantic. Most of these tempests will die on the coast. But some get second lives—as tropical storms or hurricanes. That turns out to be an important connection if you’re trying to predict hurricanes. New research shows that the temperature of clouds in those African storms could help meteorologists figure out which will mutate into coast-and-island-pummeling monsters on the other side of the ocean.

While these tall clouds are growing out of the high desert, a massive, oscillating atmospheric pattern called the Africa Easterly Wave is settling in thousands of feet above. It’s a vast, sine wave-shaped air flow that carries weather across the Sahara, east to west. When those Sudanese thunderstorms rise, they get caught up in the flow, off to drench Africa’s west coast. And there they stop; the Atlantic Ocean is cold, and thunderstorms thrive on heat.

But the Africa Easterly Wave persists, and sometimes so does the energy that used to be a thunderstorm. “And when the wave reaches the central part of the Atlantic basin, then some of the thunderstorms will start to develop again,” says Robert Rogers, a meteorologist with NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. Out in the mid-Atlantic, the water is warmer, the air more humid, and the wind stronger. And the Africa Easterly Wave’s undulations spin all those conditions into a nice cyclonic spiral.

More here.

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19 Responses to To See the Birth of an Atlantic Hurricane, Look to Africa

  1. Shelby Brown March 27, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    Predicting storms is very complicated and meteorologists can never be 100% sure of when exactly a storm will hit or how bad it will be. Meteorologists are always looking to find better ways to predict these occurrences, especially during a time such as hurricane season. These hurricanes can cause some serious damage and need to be prepared for, so predicting when they will make land is a very important step in this process. Now meteorologists have been looking all they way to Africa to try and determine this. It sounds crazy because Africa is so far away and seems like it would have absolutely nothing to do with the hurricanes hitting the East coast, but in reality Africa is where the root of these storms are. The Africa Easterly wave causes many storms to occur in Africa and these storms then travel out into the Atlantic. These same storms will either die in the cold waters of the Atlantic or grow into huge monstrous hurricanes headed for the US. The key now is to determine which of these storms will die and which ones we should watch out for. They have now discovered, and believe, that the storms with the highest and coldest clouds are the ones that can travel into the Atlantic, and once they meet the humid temperatures and high winds mid Atlantic, become tropical storms. With this information, meteorologists can now better predict when these storms will occur but the weather will still always be a mystery so let’s hope that these predictions will be correct.

  2. Ashley Scott March 27, 2015 at 9:14 am #

    Being a gentle southern soul I know a lot about the drastic impact hurricanes have on our east coast. Growing up in North Carolina I’ve been directly impacted by the disasters caused by hurricanes. I find it very interesting to know our hurricanes are in the birth process off the coast of Africa. As we are dealing with the winter Africa has been watching a new season form off the coast.

    Hurricanes start by the development of the Africa Easterly Wave that is creating thick clouds, winds, and thunderstorms. Once these waves of air push the storm a tropical store or a hurricane may form. I found it interesting that the articles stated only 1 in 10 of African storms will re-emerge. Hurricanes can be tracked but its difficult to predict how to stop a storm.

  3. Dyanira Custodio March 27, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    Soon, given a couple of months we will find ourselves in hurricane season. Shortly after a very long and drastic winter, the east coast will be faced with hurricanes coming from the west, more specifically coming from Africa as meteorologist Robert Rogers predicts. He says hurricane season is just right around the corner and that they will be coming more predominantly from Africa. Its hard to picture that the hurricanes are travelling half way across the world to land in the East coast. Predicting tropical storms such as hurricanes are much more complex than predicting the daily weather, for this reason it is reasonable to believe that meteorologist predict the behavior and origin of these storms, but there is no way to be 100 percent sure that what is predicted is what will occur. Nature in many ways is predictable, yet in many ways it is unpredictable.

  4. Hongzhi Feng March 27, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    This case talk about that the winter crushed the east coast of the USA. Many professors pointed out Hurricane season is right around the corner. The Atlantic hurricane season officially kicks off in June, but it starts over the Sahara. But enormous waves of air in the upper atmosphere push those storms west, toward the Atlantic. It’s a vast, sine wave-shaped air flow that carries weather across the Sahara, east to west. When those Sudanese thunderstorms rise, they get caught up in the flow, off to drench Africa’s west coast. And there they stop; the Atlantic Ocean is cold, and thunderstorms thrive on heat.

    In my personal opinion, Hurricane is very amazing that it will cause a lots damage, when many professors find out the reason about how did hurricane made, they can also take some measures to avoid hurricane happened to protect citizens’ profits.

  5. Kevin Dorward March 27, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    Hurricanes are some of the most dangerous kinds of storms if not the most dangerous. Predicting these storms can be very difficult and most likely whatever is predicted will not come true. Although science has advanced dramatically over the past couple decades, meteorologists still never get the weather completely right. Just take this winter as an example. We had one storm that was predicted to bring about 2 feet of snow in which classes were cancelled for 2 day. It turned out that we only got about 4 inches of snow and we still had those days off. Of course this was good news for students but meteorologist got the weather prediction wrong but what I always say is that your better off safe than sorry.

    When it comes to predicting these hurricanes every bit of information is important. The ability to predict whether a storm is going to develop into a hurricane based on the clouds of that storm can make all the difference in preparation. With knowledge of what storms originating from Africa might turn into hurricanes, it can allow for more preparations to occur which in turn saves lives and protects valuable resources.

    When I read about how hurricanes originate I related it to the butterfly effect. A flap a butterfly’s wing can cause a tornado on the other side of the planet. The same thing is the case for hurricanes. Thunderstorms in central Africa travel across the Atlantic Ocean and eventually can turn into hurricanes affecting countries in the Americas.

  6. Caroline Strickland March 27, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    As Florida resident, I have seen first hand just how important this research is first hand. These storms have the ability to absolutely decimate communities and families. The loss of life and property could be so reduced if the people who have trained to study these storms could be more efficiently predicted would be so important. It actually surprises me that scientists cannot predict these storms as earlynas they want to, however. I did not know that there was a disconnect in the scientist’s ability to connect the storms that would actually turn into a tropical depression or a hurricane. Although I couldnt hope to under stand the true scientific side of it, I appreciate that they are looking into new ways of understanding it.

  7. Robert Morrison March 27, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    In the opinion of many people, the job of a meteorologist is to be wrong 80% of the time and somehow not be fired for this inaccuracy. With every major storm, it seems like weathermen around the world work tirelessly to create enough hype as to feel the need to dedicate a particular weather pattern as the storm of the century, only to have it fall off course or be less powerful than what was projected. This constant inconsistency lulls people into a sense of security, and when a big storm does come in a projected the residual effects due to poor planning are often much greater than if they had been planned for properly in the first place. However, increased advances in technology have allowed scientists and meteorologists to better predict and track the advances of hurricanes and tropical storms, even before they are birthed. By looking at the temperature of thunderheads off the coast of Africa that are the source for many thunderstorms and hurricanes, experts say they can now accurately predict which systems will die on the coast and which will transform into the the massive storms that threaten the Gulf Coast every year during hurricane season. With these advances, weathermen will be able to more accurately predict the path of storms, and will be able to provide even more warning if a storm looks to be dangerous. This new technology has the potential to save many lives, and restore peoples faith in those predicting the weather.

  8. Christopher Fowlkes March 27, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    Hurricanes affect nearly all Atlantic regions. They come in different intensities and from different angles. As a kid I always use to watch the path of hurricanes on weather channels because it was very interesting. They noticeably come from the southeast but spawning in Africa is an odd place. Also the very top of the storms when they first start is subject to change over the Atlantic Ocean so it’s surprising that the temperature continues to make a difference. Maybe the new research will allow meteorologists to have more accurate predictions about the storms. It can become a big issue if they predict nothing more than a tropical storm and it stays a hurricane and puts people in danger due to lack of advisory.

    It bothers me that they didn’t know this information before. They have been tracking hurricanes for a long time and they probably had the technology to determine cloud temperature for decades. Since this year is an el nino year, maybe they will be able to test this research on the few storms that do transform into hurricanes.

  9. Kuba Babinski March 27, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    It seems that every year the United States east coast is ravaged by at least one tropical storm or hurricane. These natural occurrences destroy the livelihoods of many, destroy public property, cause massive cost pileups, and even often times take lives as well. Thankfully, however, meteorologists are now utilizing new technological advancements to assist them in better predicting these occurrences. They are now figuring out ways to determine which thunderheads that build up across the Atlantic in Africa are going to become the storms or hurricanes that destroy so much based off of their temperatures. If meteorologists do successfully find the connection between cloud temperatures and the tropical storms, then they will be able to provide better warning to the people who live in the storms path potentially saving lives.

  10. Catherine Gbogi March 27, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    I think it’s very interesting that water based storms first start over desert areas. This would mean that the more deserts expand, the more likely there is to be a hurricane. This article speaks about how the source of a hurricane and how bad a storm might be can first be found by researching the height, type, and “flight pattern” of the cloud. Cumulonimbus clouds that have enough power to make it over land to the sea end up becoming hurricanes. Some die out but others thrive and contribute to hurricane season. Now that scientist know, in a sense, where they originate they can give people more time and headway to get out of the way or prepare for a storm during the hurricane season.

    Some of these hurricanes have been devastating in many parts of the US as we all can mostly attest to and it had caused devastating loss and damage. But if the meteorologist knows that a hurricane is on it’s way, people have more time to prep their buildings, houses, stores, buy food, and bunker down for any storms that would head their way and that’s really good.

  11. Brittany Martins March 27, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

    This is heartbreaking. I’d much rather have snow than deal with the atrocities that hurricanes bring. It seems like right after we get over one disaster, another one is right around the corner! However, I’m glad that this information is brought to our attention sooner. That way, meteorologists could warn potentially affected areas and people way before the storm actually happens. Preparedness saves lives.
    I had no idea that hurricanes could be predicted so soon! And, I also did not know that meteorologists could determine this solely on cloud and wave patterns in the African Coast. Hopefully this isn’t going to be as terrible as it sounds and I sincerely hope that everyone is safe this hurricane season.

  12. Nelson Valerio March 27, 2015 at 8:58 pm #

    Being a meteorologist is like playing baseball, your batting average may not be too high but the best meteorologist are the ones who can predict the weather correctly more often. In our current day with all the technology we have, we still struggle to correctly predict weather and for things like tornadoes we almost have no warning what so ever. With this hurricane season beginning in June we must prepare for the worst especially with these trade winds they call El Niño. These winds cause unpredictable weather that is worst than usual.
    In this article it is interesting how they speak about the temperature in clouds being a good indication of the type of storms forming. Hopefully we can arrive to a point in the future where we can detect this temperature change in the clouds and send an object into the clouds to break apart a storm before it gets too big. In 100 years I wouldn’t be surprised if hurricanes over land becomes a thing of the past.

  13. Kerry Shaw April 1, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    The article begins to talk about an oscillation atmospheric pattern which is called the Africa Easterly Wave. The Africa Easterly Wave is thousands of feet above us and is an air flow that pushes air through the Sahara. According to Robert Rogers the wave reaches the central part of the Atlantic Basin and kills off most of the potential thunderstorms, but some still make it through the Atlantic basin. Those thunderstorms can become tropical storms or even hurricanes. They are able to track the Africa Easterly Wave weeks before the tropical storm or hurricane even hits land. According to this article on 1 in every 10 of these African storms re-emerge after being killed off.
    They then go on to talk about some clouds. If the temperature of 5% of the clouds in the African Easterly Wave drops to -58 degrees F, than the likelihood of a tropical storm, hurricane, or cyclone appearing will increase. This was interesting to me because I never knew you could determine the severity of a tropical storm just from the thunderstorms there were traveling across the sea.

  14. Matthew Fox April 2, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

    Meteorologists have been looking into hurricane season and trying to study and predict how the clouds above Sahara, Africa are impacting the hurricanes that are created over the Atlantic Ocean. If the people studying these clouds can get to a point where they can read these clouds and how they will impact the upcoming hurricane, this will help with the preparation process for the islands and east coast of the USA. I think this would be great for meteorologists because they have had a bad reputation recently. We have been reported to have massive snow storms, up to two feet of snow, and we get maybe two inches. Their estimations for these hurricanes could be much more accurate for upcoming weeks. This article interested me because I learned that hurricanes are created from thunderstorms in Africa rather than being swirled up in the middle of the Atlantic. If we were able to tell the severity of each storm that was coming our way weeks in advance, that would give ample opportunities and chances to prepare against these massive storms. This could give people plenty of time to leave their homes and escape from the areas that are going to be harmed by these hurricanes.

  15. Andres Arcila April 5, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

    Hurricanes are one of the most aggressive among all the natural disasters. However, a lot of people do not know how do Hurricanes are formed, especially in those places that are apart from hurricanes danger. According to a website this is the best description for Hurricane “A hurricane is a huge storm. It can be up to 600 miles across and have strong winds spiraling inward and upward at speeds of 75 to 200 mph. Each hurricane usually lasts for over a week, moving 10-20 miles per hour over the open ocean”. This explains why hurricanes are dangerous, many people have been victims of hurricanes, unfortunately.
    I have a personal experience with Hurricanes, right after Katrina my dad came to do some work for his job to the US. In Colombia we do not have hurricanes or any big natural disaster thank to God. When he was here apparently a hurricane bigger than Katrina was going to hit the place he was in. He tried to leave but the lines of cars was huge that barely they could advance in the interstates and also all the market were empty already because people bought all the basic need like water, food and that stuff for the hurricane. In this situation he thought he was going to die until the point that he called my mom in Colombia to give all the important and bank information in case he died but the hurricane finally ended up losing power and moving to other place.

  16. Chris Chau April 9, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

    In the past, I overheard talks about how global warming is a cause of more frequent and stronger storms. The thing is not many people mention about it so I feel like either people about this or they just never heard of this before. I have included some links mentioning about this. Basically with the global warming, ice caps melt increasing the water levels which means more floods. This is what most people already know. However global warming also heats up the water more than it did in the past. Therefore, these storms which are being carried across the oceans are gaining strength or at least not losing as much strength as it did before in the past when the waters and air were colder. This creates more optimal conditions to for storms leading hurricanes and such to be more devastating than they are in the past. More energy, more damage.

    http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/global-warming-climate-change/threats-impacts/stronger-storms.xml

    http://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Threats-to-Wildlife/Global-Warming/Global-Warming-is-Causing-Extreme-Weather.aspx

    http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/global-warming-rain-snow-tornadoes.html#.VSdBtZPK_Fk

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2015/feb/09/global-warming-is-causing-more-extreme-storms

  17. Shawn Caltagirone October 2, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

    Living close to the shore, hurricanes always have an effect on the weather no matter how close or far they are. Recently, Hurricane Sandy destroyed most of the New Jersey shores and left millions of people out of their houses. It affected me directly when our secondary house which is directly on the water was flooded and deemed totaled. After this disaster there was a long road to recovery as many people know but Hurricanes are very dangerous storms.
    It always interested me to how they formed over the ocean and after reading this and thinking about the weather off of Africa and the water temperatures I wonder if there is anything we can do to either slow these storms down or be more prepared for them. There are always going to be the few people that ride the storm out and don’t evacuate.
    Is there any way we can slow down the storms before they carry over the Atlantic and evolve into Hurricanes? These are deadly storms that destroy everything people have worked their lives for, especially down in the Florida and Louisiana area. If scientists can figure out a way to stop these storms from turning into Category 4 and 5 Hurricanes and destroying anything in its path then we would save a lot of lives and save people from losing everything due to wind and major floods.
    It’s almost impossible to predict exactly what these storms will do and if they will even make it across the Atlantic to turn into Hurricanes but the more we know about how they form and what types of weather condition they are most common in we can have more time to prepare. People along coastlines would be able to pack more sentimental items when they evacuate instead of only having time to grab everything they can carry and jump in the car. Hurricane research should be a top priority because it destroys so many lives every year and the more time we have to prepare the better off evacuation plans will carry out.

  18. Imani Broadway February 19, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    As a young child I was always extremely terrified of thunderstorms to the point that I would hide underneath a cover and lay right up under one of my parents. Now having more knowledge about thunderstorms and understanding they will not kill me as long as I take safety precautions and stay indoors, I am now interested in thunderstorms. I now enjoy watching the clouds get darker and darker as the storm approaches, the wind starting to pick up, and laying there listening to the rain and thunder. Having already been interested in storms this article really caught my attention with the title. Throughout the article Nick Stockton is giving insight into how hurricanes form and how meteorologist track them.
    Hurricane season typically begins to kick off in June just in time for the summer. Before a hurricane reaches land or is even considered a hurricane it first starts of in Africa. The storm starts over the Sahara Desert in the Sudanese Highlands. As the storm continues moving towards Africa’s west coast it causes drenching rain storms. It then continues moving west towards the Atlantic with the help of enormous air waves, here there is a strong possibility the storm dies because the Atlantic is too cold and in order for the storm to continue to survive it needs heat. I believe once the storm has survived the Atlantic it can now either grow, remain the same, or shrink to fit the aspects of the category scale of how hurricanes are measured. Meteorologist were said to use geostationary satellites in order to view the thunderstorms over Africa. A geostationary satellite is “an earth-orbiting satellite, placed at an altitude of approximately 35,800 kilometers directly over the equator that revolves in the same direction the earth rotates.” This just being one of many other satellites used by that of meteorologist.
    Many meteorologist get a bad reputation because of how inaccurate their weather forecast can be. I believe many people fail to realize that they are mainly going off predictions and that the forecast they give is not set in stone, and that Mother Nature can change at any moment. Due to the fact of meteorologist not always being correct many people take severe weather warnings such as hurricanes or snow lightly because they feel as though the storm will not be as bad as it is expected to be. This was proven during hurricane Katrina back in 2005. The storm was rated a category 5 but still not enough people took the warning seriously, instead of stocking up on food and supplies the people getting hit the hardest should have tried to work on going else. I believe the storm would not have been as bad as it turned out to be if the levees would not have broken as well.
    I have personally never been in a serious hurricane, living in Maryland we typically do not experience high category hurricanes. We normally experience the aftermath of it or get some of the effects from it if it comes close enough while still out in the Atlantic. In my lifetime I have only experienced one hurricane which happened back in 2003, I was about 6 or 7. I remember going shopping with my mom for food and supplies for which I believe was a category 2 or 3 storm. During that storm which lasted for about a day and half I just recall it raining nonstop with heavy winds and an occasionally rumble of thunder. I can only imagine the fear the people of New Orleans faced throughout that storm. Hurricane Katrina should have been a warning to everyone that even though you may not trust the weatherman’s predications you still need to take necessary precautions to ensure your family and yourself will be okay.

  19. N.A. October 31, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

    It’s true that most Atlantic hurricanes that start out as minor coastal storms but then evolves into a massive catastrophe like no other usually originates off the coast of Western Africa. Generally, in that area specifically, there are always tropical disturbances that meteorologists tend to keep a close eye on during hurricane season especially. The Atlantic Hurricane season tends to start mid-May with many tropical cyclones starting to form at that point into huge northeast bearing hurricanes and continues to do so until about the end of November. By keeping an eye on those storms that originate off disturbances in the atmosphere over western Africa, many weather channels/outlets can track the potential path of the evolved hurricane to warn any civilian population that may be in its path to take an extra precaution or evacuate if need be. Doing so greatly increases the likelihood of a decreased amount of potential fatalities and destruction that such hurricanes, unfortunately, leave behind.

    Outstandingly, most of the extreme hurricanes that affect the U.S. and the Caribbean, in particular, stems from West Africa’s link to the largest hot desert in the world which is the Sahara. The mix of the hot dry air from the Sahara and the atmosphere from the Gulf of Guinea for instance which has high levels of water vapor are one of the main components of atmospheric disturbances. These disruptions known as tropical waves coupled in with cloud coverage are used to determine if those tropical waves will turn into hurricanes in the next few weeks. Interactions between the warm waters of the Gulf of Guinea and the tropical waves causes a formation of moist air to rise from the ocean which is the trigger for hurricanes to develop. In summary, not all hurricanes may have formed from off the coast of Africa, however a quick look through history shows that a great many of them originate from that area, so researching/honing in on that geographical area specifically during the Atlantic hurricane season can aid to better predict which of those many disruptions are worth observing and preparing for.

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