UH Moment

UH Moment: “Hurricanes”

Researchers at the University of Houston are studying how salt and heat affect hurricanes. Listen to this week’s UH Moment.


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Han Hofmeister and Jim Lawrence calibrate the deviceWhen powerful hurricanes churn toward land, science is skilled in predicting where they might make landfall.  One professor is studying the role heat and salt play in making the storm more intense.

“In the last 20 years, we’ve gotten better and better at predicting where the hurricanes are going to go, but one area where they need a lot of improvement is getting the changes of intensity of hurricanes,” said James Lawrence, professor in the department of earth and atmospheric science.

Currently, he is conducting tests to calibrate a device he and colleague Han Hofmeister of the department of chemistry developed that can measure the salt content in the rain of a hurricane while flying through the storm.  His research is aimed at understanding how extra heat derived from sea spray enhances the development of intense hurricanes. 

“The amount of salt in the rain is a result of high winds at the surface of the storm, which makes a lot of sea spray,” Lawrence said. “If we’re flying a plane back and forth across the hurricane, what  we will be doing is mapping the concentration of the salt, like a picture of how high the salt is, the higher the concentration the higher the winds at the surface.”

Jim Lawrence demonstrating his deviceThe device was developed for use on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s P3 research aircraft and has flown with hurricane hunters investigating this year’s Hurricane Danny.

Jim Lawrence is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m Marisa Ramirez.

Telling the stories of the University of Houston, this UH Moment is brought to you by KUHF, listener supported radio from the University of Houston.