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Science Ticker

Science Ticker

Here’s what’s unusual about Hurricane Michael

The late-season Gulf of Mexico storm rapidly intensified to a category 4 before making landfall

satellite image of Hurricane Michael

FUELED-UP FURY  Hurricane Michael, shown here just hours before it made landfall along the Florida panhandle, gathered strength from unusually warm Gulf of Mexico waters before slamming the coast as a Category 4 storm.

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Call it an October surprise: Hurricane Michael strengthened unusually quickly before slamming into the Florida panhandle on October 10 and remained abnormally strong as it swept into Georgia. The storm made landfall with sustained winds of about 250 kilometers per hour, just shy of a category 5 storm, making it the strongest storm ever to hit the region, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center, or NHC.

Warm ocean waters are known to fuel hurricanes’ fury by adding heat and moisture; the drier air over land masses, by contrast, can help strip storms of strength. So hurricanes nearing the Florida panhandle, a curving landmass surrounding the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, tend to weaken as they pull in drier air from land. But waters in the Gulf that were about 1 degree to 2 degrees Celsius warmer than average for this time of year, as well as abundant moisture in the air over the eastern United States, helped to supercharge Michael. Despite some wind conditions that scientists expected to weaken the storm, it strengthened steadily until it made landfall, which the NHC noted “defies traditional logic.”   The fast-moving storm weakened only slightly, to a category 3, before hurtling into Georgia.

Although it is not possible to attribute the generation of any one storm to climate change, scientists have long predicted that warming ocean waters would lead to more intense tropical cyclones in the future. More recent attribution studies have borne out that prediction, suggesting that very warm waters in the tropical Atlantic helped to fuel 2017’s powerful storm season, which spawned hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Hurricane Harvey, fueled by unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico in August 2017, also underwent a rapid intensification, strengthening from a tropical storm to a category 4 hurricane within about 30 hours. And this year, scientists reported that Hurricane Florence, which slammed into the Carolinas in September, was probably warmer and wetter due to warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.

Read another version of this story at Science News for Students

Particle Physics,, Science & Society

Physicist Leon Lederman, renowned for his subatomic particle work, has died

By Emily Conover 5:17pm, October 3, 2018
The Nobel Prize–winning particle physicist discovered multiple particles and wrote popular science books.

Speeding up the evolution of proteins wins the chemistry Nobel

By Tina Hesman Saey 7:37am, October 3, 2018
Work on evolving new proteins from old ones takes the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Groundbreaking ways of manipulating light win trio the 2018 physics Nobel

By Lisa Grossman 7:26am, October 2, 2018
Three scientists, including the third woman to win a physics Nobel, are honored for their laser inventions.
Physiology,, Cancer

Cancer immunotherapy wins the 2018 medicine Nobel Prize

By Tina Hesman Saey 6:42am, October 1, 2018
Therapies that unleash immune system brakes against cancer have earned the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

The CDC says 80,000 people died from the flu last year

By Aimee Cunningham 3:48pm, September 27, 2018
The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the deadliest on record for the United States.
Particle Physics

Early tests pave the way for a giant neutrino detector

By Emily Conover 2:41pm, September 18, 2018
A prototype detector demonstrates the technology needed for the DUNE experiment.
Planetary Science

New Horizons has sent back the first images of Ultima Thule, its next target

By Christopher Crockett 2:39pm, August 29, 2018
NASA probe gets its first look at distant Kuiper Belt object
Planetary Science

OSIRIS-REx snaps first images of asteroid Bennu

By Lisa Grossman 5:12pm, August 24, 2018
OSIRIS-REx got its first glimpse of near-Earth asteroid Bennu. The probe will collect a sample from the asteroid and return it to Earth.
Planetary Science

Here’s where the Hayabusa2 spacecraft will land on the asteroid Ryugu

By Lisa Grossman 3:48pm, August 23, 2018
Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe and its landers will touch down on the asteroid Ryugu in the next few months to pick up dust samples and return them to Earth.
Health,, Cancer

There’s a new cervical cancer screening option

By Aimee Cunningham 11:00am, August 21, 2018
Women now have another choice for cervical cancer screening: getting an HPV test alone every five years.
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