Wind shear is one of the many important factors that either makes or breaks a tropical storm during hurricane season. But what is it and how does it affect a tropical storm? Let's find out.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Though it's a nice idea, artificially cooling ocean surfaces won't do much to stop the destructive power of a hurricane. The news comes from a recent study by scientists at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science.
"Massive amounts of artificially cooled water would be needed for only a modest weakening in hurricane intensity before landfall," said the study's lead author, James Hlywiak, in a release. He added that that weakening would not necessarily decrease inland damages and safety risks.
The idea of using cool water to cut the knees out from under a hurricane makes a lot of sense.
Hurricanes form and strengthen, in part, because of warm ocean water above 79 degrees. And scientists know that slow-moving hurricanes sometimes weaken themselves — they produce so much wind that cool water is pulled up from the deep and zaps some of the storm's energy. In theory, if humans could aid this cool upwelling process we could dampen a storm.
The goal of the study was to figure out just how much cooler surface water would be needed to cause a noticeable impact on hurricane intensity.
To figure that out, Hlywaiak and co-author David Nolan compared two models of hurricane assessment. The simpler of the two, the maximum potential intensity theory, is commonly used to determine the maximum velocity of tropical storms.
The other was a more complex state-of-the-art numerical weather model. "We used this to simulate a more realistic approach featuring a finite region of cooling over a more realistic ocean and land surface," said Hlywiak. The numerical model also factored in the amount of time a storm would travel over cooled water — something the simpler model could not do.
In the simpler model, fast-moving storms traveling over very hot water could be significantly weakened by technology-induced cooling, the study said, but in the more complex numerical simulations, the artificial cooling would require a massive scale.
Massive rainfall from the hurricane season's first disturbance caused floods, stranding cars and soaking businesses in an area near downtown Miami on June 4, 2022.
The study authors' model simulated an approximately Category 4 hurricane encountering an area of cooled water larger than the state of Oregon — that's nearly twice the size of Florida. They set the patch at 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the surrounding water (the optimal temperature difference, according to models) and found that the hurricane weakened by only 15%.
The amount of energy that the numerical model removed from that area of water is 100 times the amount of energy that the entire U.S. used in 2019.
"That would be like taking a Category 4 or 5 storm down to a low Category 3, so it's still a major hurricane," said Hlywiak. He cautioned that focusing on category can be deceptive. "We chose not to focus on maximum wind speed — it only describes intensity at one point in storm," he said.
"Hurricane Sandy is a good example. It was the equivalent of a Category 1 storm, yet it was still one of the most devastating hurricanes on record due to the sheer size. As we say in Miami, there's more to the story than the category."
The study found that faster-moving storms could be weakened to a higher degree than slow storms, but would require an even larger field of cooled water, since they would cross the cooled patch faster.
How would technology ever cool that much water? That remains to be seen.
Ideas for actually creating cool water upwellings include running perforated pipes below the thermocline, typically between 50 and 100 feet deep in the South Florida region, and releasing a stream of bubbles from the pipes.
The rising bubbles would create an upwelling of cold water.
Another challenge the study notes is that the path of a hurricane can change dramatically and quickly. Arranging technology to intercept a hurricane would be quite difficult.
The perforated pipe concept suggests running the "bubble curtain" between Cuba and Florida, which would, in theory, weaken storms heading into the Gulf. Once through the curtain, though, they still would encounter warm water.
Some natural forces that inhibit hurricane formation and strengthening include traveling over land, especially mountainous regions, and a phenomenon known as the Saharan air layer, or Saharan dust wave, a 2-mile-thick layer of hot, dry dusty air that shoots off North Africa east toward Florida.
It travels about a mile above the water's surface at 30 mph to 50 mph and can cut into storms, tearing them apart. These winds typically dissipate in mid-August.
Another force that weakens hurricanes is other hurricanes — as they pass through an area, they leave the water cooler. In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita both cooled certain areas of the Gulf of Mexico by 7.2 F, according to data from NASA.
NASA research indicates that climate change will result in more available moisture in the atmosphere for hurricanes in the future.
Their models do not suggest more frequent tropical storms, but those that do form will have a great likelihood of becoming destructive and dangerous Category 4 or 5 storms.
Photos: Billion-dollar US hurricanes and tropical storms since 1980
Hurricane Allen - 1980
A gigantic clean-up task is underway along the Texas Gulf Coast where hurricane Allen left his mark after stomping ashore on Sunday morning. Here workmen clear debris from around overturned pleasure boats at the Corpus Christi marina, Texas on August 12, 1980. (AP Photo/Ted Powers)
Hurricane Alicia - 1983
Employees of the Spin-N-Mart food store in Baytown take inventory and clean up what was left over after Hurricane Alicia stripped off the roof, Aug. 20, 1983. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin)
Hurricane Elena - 1985
Two Gulfport, Miss., men look at cars damaged when a tornado tore the roof off a school on Monday, Sept. 2, 1985 in Gulfport, Mississippi. The tornado followed in the wake of Hurricane Elena whose eye came ashore over Biloxi/Gulfport. (AP Photo/Tannen Maury)
Hurricane Hugo - 1989
FILE- In this Sept. 23, 1989 file photo, Lou de Liesseline pauses in despair after looking at the damage to her home on Folly Beach. The water surge caused by Hurricane Hugo moved the house off its foundations and back 100 feet. Hurricane Hugo might have been the first modern U.S. storm ushering in an era of live TV coverage and large scale coastal evacuations. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Hurricane Bob - 1991
New England regional FEMA chief Ed Thomas, right, talks with Frank and Mary Mahady, Sept. 25, 1991 of Mattapoisett, Mass., whose home, seen intact in far background, survived Hurricane Bob because it was built to be hurricane-resistant. Federal officials are trying to convince people rebuilding structures to follow hurricane-resistant construction plans. (AP Photo/Stephen Rose)
Hurricane Iniki - 1992
A Poipu Beach resort on the Hawaiian island of Kauai is heavily damaged following high winds and rain from Hurricane Iniki, Sept. 12, 1992. The island remains without electricity and the airports are closed. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Hurricane Opal - 1995
Hurricane Opal's devastation to housing along Panama City Beach, Fla., is shown in an Oct. 5, 1995 file photo. Insurers are watching a new hurricane season blow into Florida hoping to "dodge bullets" again. (AP Photo/Mark Foley, File)
Hurricane Erin - 1995
Emergency medical crews on ATV patrol keep a sharp eye out for residents who may need medical aide Sunday, Oct. 8, 1995, during the second day residents were allowed back on Pensacola Beach to check on personal property damaged by Hurricane Erin. This view is of Ariola Drive on the gulf-side of Pensacola Beach which was one of the hardest hit areas in Pensacola. (AP Photo/Pensacola News Journal,Bruce Graner)
Hurricane Fran - 1996
A house sits in the surf, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 1996, left in ruins after Hurricane Fran struck the tiny beach town of North Topsail in early September. Nearly every house received major damage from the storm. Preparation for a storm season is incumbent on consumers to strengthen existing properties now or construct new homes or major remodel projects as best they can to fend off storm damage this year and in succeeding years. (AP Photo/Karl DeBlaker)
Tropical Storm Frances - 1998
Shawn Anderson, left, and Victoria Dues hold onto a street sign after their car stalled out while driving through floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Frances Friday, Sept. 11, 1998, in Houston. The storm hit land early Friday and storms dumped heavy rain on the Houston area, flooding streets and homes throughout the city and outlying areas. (AP Photo/Brett Coomer)
Hurricane Georges - 1998
FILE - In this Sept. 25, 1998 file photo, taken by Dave Martin, Key West residents Brian Goss, left, George Wallace and Michael Mooney, right, hold on to each other as they battle 90 mph winds along Houseboat Row in Key West, Fla., after the three had sought shelter behind a Key West hotel as Hurricane Georges descended on the Florida Keys. They were forced to seek other shelter when the storm conditions became too rough. Martin, a longtime Associated Press photographer based in Montgomery, Ala., died after collapsing on the Georgia Dome field at the Chick-fil-A Bowl footballg ame on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013. Martin was 59. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
Hurricane Floyd - 1999
Residents of Portsmouth, Va., form a line to receive drinking water being distributed by the Virgina National Guard in a shopping mall parking lot Friday, Sept. 17, 1999. Distribution was to begin at noon with residents arriving as early as 9:00 a.m. to wait in line. Water still had not arrived by late afternoon. More than 100,000 people living in Portsmouth and parts of Chesapeake and Suffolk Virginia are without water in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd. Officials say it may be as long as seven to 10days before the water system is back on line. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Tropical Storm Allison - 2001
After losing electricity and backup generators due to flooding from Tropical Storm Allison, doctors and nurses at Herman Hospital evacuate a critically ill patient down powerless escalator stairs in Houston, in a Saturday, June 9, 2001 file photo. Officials of Houston hospitals say that as a result of the 2001 disaster, their institutions are in better shape to face Hurricane Rita. (AP Photo/Michael Stravato, File)
Hurricane Andrew - 1992
The devastation left by Hurricane Andrew is clear in this Sept. 4, 1992 aerial file photo over Florida City, Fla. The storm damage to Florida City, Homestead and other small cities south of Miami was estimated at $30 billion, leaving some 180,000 people homeless. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Hurricane Lili - 2002
In this Oct. 3, 2002 file photo, Eusie Leboeuf of Pointe Aux Chenes, La., plays in the water in front of the Knights of Columbus Hall. A levee in this small south Louisiana town broke as Hurricane Lili came ashore, causing hundreds of homes to be flooded. It is the second time in ten years that Pointe Aux Chenes has flooded because of hurricanes. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, file)
Hurricane Isabel - 2003
Dozens of people gather in flooded downtown Annapolis, Md., Sept. 19, 2003, to see the water damage from Hurricane Isabel. Rising tides fed by high winds and rains from Isabel pushed water inland to low-lying areas around the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River flooding homes and businesses. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina swept across the south, Cambridge Mayor Cleveland Rippons met with Dorchester County emergency officials and hosted a town hall meeting, in partto reassure residents about the city's disaster response plan. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Hurricane Charley - 2004
A Port Charlotte hardware store worker tries to salvage items from the store Saturday afternoon Aug. 14, 2004, in Port Charlotte, Fla. Hurricane Charley plowed through the area Friday afternoon leaving behind a path of destruction. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Hurricane Frances - 2004
Workers try to clear a mud slide on Interstate 40 outside of Black Mountain, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004 after the remnants of Hurricane Frances brought heavy rains and flooding to the area. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Hurricane Ivan - 2004
McKinleyville, W.Va. resident Bob Ohler walks through the debris left behind in Buffalo Creek, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004, in McKinleyville, after flooding from remnants of Hurricane Ivan last Friday devasted the rural Brooke County town. (AP Photo/Dale Sparks)
Hurricane Jeanne - 2004
Faith Glionna sits outside her nail salon as she waits for power to be retored in Indialantic, Fla., on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004. Glionna lost her home to Hurricane Frances three weeks ago and moved in with her mother, whose roof was blown off when Hurricane Jeanne struck the Florida coast last weekend. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Hurricane Dennis - 2005
Residents of Navarre Beach, Fla., walk past damage from Hurricane Dennis Monday, July 11, 2005. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Hurricane Katrina - 2005
Homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina are shown in this aerial view, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Hurricane Katrina - $180 billion in damage
Emanuel Honeycutt is followed by his son Emanuel Jr., 11, as he carries his daughter Eman, 9, through floodwaters in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, after the area was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Officials called for a mandatory evacuation of the city, but many resident remained in the city. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Hurricane Rita - 2005
Erroll Dominque walks through his ruined area of cane fields Nov. 7, 2005 in Erath, La. Hay rolls and other debris floated into his fields from the tidial surge caused by hurricane Rita. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni)
Hurricane Wilma - 2005
Mark Gordon sits on a mattress in his homemade shelter in a Plantation, Fla. Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005, one month after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the home he was living in. The shelter is in the middle of hurricane-littered parking lot on the day hurricane season ends. He is doing odd jobs for FEMA crews cleaning up after the storm. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
Hurricane Ike - 2008
Debris from Hurricane Ike lines the seawall Monday, Sept. 15, 2008 in Galveston, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Hurricane Gustav - 2008
Mary Kay Chetta looks through some of the lost items that evacuees lost during the evacuation from Hurricane Gustav at City Hall in New Orleans, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008. Roughly 3 percent of the 28,000 Gustav evacuees may have had their luggage lost or mishandled, according to state and city figures. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
Hurricane Irene 2011
Visitors play in the wind as Hurricane Irene passes through Virginia Beach, Va., Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Hurricane Isaac - 2012
Don Duplantier walks through his flooded home as water recedes from Hurricane Isaac in Braithwaite, La., Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012. In the foreground is a sign marking the waterline from Hurricane Katrina, but floodwater from Isaac went all the way up to the second floor. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy - 2012
FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2012 file photo, seawater floods the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel during Superstorm Sandy in New York. Disaster experts say people have to think about the big disaster that happens only a few times a lifetime at most, but is devastating when it hits — Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, the 2011 super outbreak of tornadoes, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or a horrible pandemic. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo, File)
Hurricane Matthew - 2016
A woman who identified herself as Valerie walks along flooded President Street after leaving her homeless camp after Hurricane Matthew caused flooding, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Savannah, Ga. Matthew plowed north along the Atlantic coast, flooding towns and gouging out roads in its path. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Tropical Storm Harvey - 2017
FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2017 file photo, evacuees rest at the George R. Brown Convention Center that was been set up as a shelter operated by the Red Cross for evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas. The groups helping to rebuild on the Texas Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey have collected close to $1 billion in donations. Of the $853 million raised by major groups involved in the recovery, the most money has been collected by the Red Cross, which said this month that it's raised $493 million for Harvey relief. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
Hurricane Maria - 2017
Manuel Morales Ortíz explains what his home suffered during the 2017 hurricane season, in Corozal, Puerto Rico, Monday, July 13, 2020. Nearly three years after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of homes remain badly damaged. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
Hurricane Irma - 2017
Gustavo Mejia, left, of Miami, and his nephew Juan Sebastian Mejia, of Palmira, Colombia, take a selfie in front of a boarded up hotel on South Beach, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Miami Beach, Fla. Juan Sebastian Mejia was on vacation from Colombia when his flight back home was cancelled. Hurricane Irma aimed its sights on millions of homes and businesses in Florida and officials warned that time was running out to evacuate ahead of the deadly hurricane, which was headed Friday on a long-feared path right through the heart of the peninsula. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Hurricane Florence - 2018
FILE- In this Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 file photo, part of the Starlite Motel is washed away in the aftermath of flooding from Hurricane Florence in Spring Lake, N.C. Florence washed away half the rooms at the Starlite Motel ripping away the livelihood of a family that bought it in recent months. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File.)
Hurricane Michael - 2018
FILE- In this Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. A year after Hurricane Michael, Bay County, Florida, is still in crisis. Thousands are homeless, medical care and housing are at a premium, and domestic violence is increasing. Michael was among the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States. This summer, county officials unveiled a blueprint to rebuild. Among their ideas: Use shipping containers and 3-D technology to build new houses and offer signing bonuses to lure new doctors. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
Hurricane Dorian - 2019
Two Haitian migrants sit as one stands amid the ruins of a home destroyed by Hurricane Dorian in Abaco, Bahamas, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. A preliminary report estimates Dorian caused some $7 billion in damage, but the government has not yet offered any figures. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Hurricane Isaias - 2020
High water signs are posted along Ocean Drive following the effects of Hurricane Isaias in Caswell Beach, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Hurricane Laura - 2020
FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020 file photo, buildings and homes are flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura in Cameron, La. Laura, which jumped 65 mph (105 kph) in the day before landfall, tied the record for the biggest rapid intensification in the Gulf of Mexico, said former hurricane hunter meteorologist Jeff Masters. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Hurricane Sally - 2020
Sierra Patterson holds her three-week-old baby Tru Alexander in their flooded apartment where floodwaters reaches two feet inside, after Hurricane Sally moved through, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, in , Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Hurricane Delta - 2020
FILE - Soncia King holds onto her husband, Patrick King, in Lake Charles, La., Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, as they walk through the flooded street to their home, after Hurricane Delta moved through the previous day. According to a study published in Nature Communications on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, climate change made the record-smashing deadly 2020 Atlantic hurricane season noticeably wetter. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
Hurricane Ida - 2021
Displaced caskets that floated away from a cemetery during flooding sits along a road in Ironton, La., Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. A month after Hurricane Ida, small communities along Louisiana's southeastern coast are still without power or running water. Some residents have lost most of their possessions to the storm's floodwaters. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)