Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Physics of Hurricane Irene

A hurricane is a wonderful example of physics in action, despite being a natural disaster. In a hurricane you have the physics that is involved with motion (both rotational and translational), pressure, fluid dynamics, and probably much more. As weather predictors try to figure out what went wrong with their predictions for Irene (or other storms), physics becomes incredibly important.

Of particular relevance to what we are learning in Physics 111 this week (displacement, velocity, acceleration) is the wind speed on the ground at different locations in the hurricane. The article explains how with Hurricane Irene traveling north, those on the northeast side of the storm were getting the highest wind speeds (wind speed+ Irene’s speed) while those on the southwest will get the lowest wind speeds (wind speed-Irene’s speed). This worked out for the East Coast because the windier side was mainly off-shore.

The article also discusses the physics behind storm surges – the pressure on the water decreases at the eye of the storm causing the water to rise higher than the water outside the hurricane, creating a wall of water.

The link to the article (and the picture below) is:

A pretty cool link to a video showing satellite imagery of Irene can be found here:

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