FSU grad student attempting to solve the mystery of hurricane formation

Published: May. 22, 2020 at 4:10 PM EDT
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By: Charles Roop | WCTV Pinpoint Weather

May 22, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- It's well known that hurricanes are one of nature's most destructive forces, but it's not completely and universally understood how they form. But one graduate student is trying to change that.

Jake Carstens, a Florida State University Ph.D. candidate and Illinois native, has been fascinated with these storms.

For his Master's thesis, and with help from his professor Dr. Allison Wing, they were able to find some key factors for development of tropical cyclones depending on where it is in the ocean.

Using a computer modeling system, they simulated the atmosphere by letting it go on its own without trying to force a hurricane to develop. It simulated 100 days, but took nearly two weeks to run according to Carstens.

"We're basically just allowing clouds to operate on their own free will, and basically form a hurricane the way that they want to," he said.

Once the runs were finished, Carstens said they found two different processes taking place.

First, between 10 and 20 degrees latitude, clouds clustered near each other for a few days. As thunderstorms got closer together, an area of spin developed around 10,000 to 13,000 feet above the ocean surface. As the spin moved toward the surface, the hurricane intensified.

With these higher latitude systems, every simulation produced a major hurricane, according to their paper.

The second interesting result, according to Carstens, was the lower latitude (closer to the equator) storm simulations. They found thunderstorm development helping to create spin in the lower levels first, then working its way up in the air. But many of these simulated storms were weaker in intensity.

"We still found for the first time that tropical cyclones can form at such low latitudes," Carstens said.

And the research has garnered some attention.

"It was the second most mentioned paper in the history of the journal that we published in," he said. "So that was really exciting to see."

Carstens said that he's not finished yet, and there is still a lot of work to do.

"What we hope to do is to continue to advance our knowledge for the favorable environments in which they form so that we can better be able to forecast more in advance and more confidently when these systems are going to form," he said. "If you get the starting point better, it just makes everything better."

With more information on how these storms form, the better forecasts will help residents get out of harms way.

The study, published in the American Geophysical Union's Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, is open access and can be found by