Hurricane Hot Towers – NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM)

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Courtesy: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

‘Towers in the Tempest’ is a narrated animation that explains recent scientific insights into how hurricanes intensify. This intensification can be caused by a phenomenon called a ‘hot tower’. For the first time, research meteorologists have run complex simulations using a very fine temporal resolution of 3 minutes. Combining this simulation data with satellite observations enables detailed study of ‘hot towers’.

The science of ‘hot towers’ is described using: observed hurricane data from a satellite, descriptive illustrations, and volumetric visualizations of simulation data. The first section of the animation shows actual data from Hurricane Bonnie observed by NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) spacecraft.

Three dimensional precipitation radar data reveal a strong ‘hot tower’ in Hurricane Bonnie’s internal structure. The second section uses illustrations to show the dynamics of a hurricane and the formation of ‘hot towers’. ‘Hot towers’ are formed as air spirals inward towards the eye and is forced rapidly upwards, accelerating the movement of energy into high altitude clouds.

The third section shows these processes using volumetric cloud, wind, and vorticity data from a supercomputer simulation of Hurricane Bonnie. Vertical wind speed data highlights a ‘hot tower’. Arrows representing the wind field move rapidly up into the ‘hot tower, boosting the energy and intensifying the hurricane. Combining satellite observations with super-computer simulations provides a powerful tool for studying Earth’s complex systems.