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08-31-12, 11:00 AM
http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/omar_amo_2008289.jpg Hurricane Omar
NASA Earth Observatory (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=35557)


There are two things coastal residents nervously look for in hurricanes (more generally, ‚??tropical cyclones‚??). First, where will the storm make landfall? Second, how strong will it be? Tropical cyclones are fueled by warm water, so sea surface temperatures have a lot to do with how a storm plays out.

Normally, a tropical cyclone traveling over warm water will cause the water to cool as the strong winds stir up the water, which brings cooler water to the surface. This helps limit the growth of the cyclone, because it effectively diminishes its own fuel source. However, that doesn‚??t always happen, and the storm can continue to grow as a result.

In 2008, Hurricane Omar spun its way through the Caribbean. It was not an especially damaging storm, but it did give researchers some food for thought. If you look at a map of Omar‚??s effect on sea surface temperatures, you‚??ll see that as it neared the Virgin Islands, it stopped causing the warm sea surface to cool. Later, the normal cooling behavior resumed. So what happened?

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