Wilma: The Record Breaking Storm In Meteorology History

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The wind howls as it shakes the metal shutters against the sliding glass door like its knocking letting the occupancies know that Wilma is here. The rain slams against the roof adding to the many sounds of what hurricanes bring. Families huddled together praying that Wilma will spare their house. Chaos fill outside as trees fall over, branches are being tossed around, and unfortunate sheds and mailboxes tumble down the street. Hurricane Wilma tore through South Florida and Caribbean Islands costing billions in dollars in damage and taking lives. Therefore, Wilma is important in meteorology history, because she help lead more research on tropical cyclone intensification and broke many records.

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Wilma raised so many concerns on how rapid intensification of tropical cyclones really occur. It is common meteorology knowledge that sea surface temperatures, and weak vertical wind shear are some of the few identifiable components of intensification. However, there are other components that can fuel rapid intensification. Authors, Chen and Zhang, conclude from another article by W. M Gray, “…finds that even when all favorable environmental factors are present, TCs [tropical cyclones] would not intensify without outbreaks of organized deep convection” called convective bursts. Convective burst are “…deep intense convective system consisting of one or more updrafts of at least 15ms-1 in upper troposphere”. Throughout this journal convective burst are mentioned in relation to rapid intensification. Usually connective bursts are paired with sea surface temperatures and heat columns in the hurricane. Convective burst are important in studying intensification because they either happen before or during intensification. One conclusion made by the authors is that convective burst depend “…critically on the warmth of the sea surface temperatures”.

Luckily for the convective burst this played a huge role in the development, because the sea surface temperatures were warm allowing Wilma to rapidly grow. This is proven in the WRF (Weather Research and Forecasting) model which shows that where “…the record breaking rapid intensification occurs in the presence of high SSTs (sea surface temperatures) and weak vertical wind shear…”. Sea surface temperatures are very crucial, because even a degree cooler can decrease the chances for convective burst and result in a weaker storm than predicted. Therefore, because of “Wilma’s record-breaking intensity and near ideal environmental conditions for intensification lead…” to how meteorologist forecast future tropical cyclones. Wilma made such an impact that the name was retired the next year. Wilma rocked the meteorology world with the records she broke and power she brought onto Florida. Before Hurricane Patricia, Wilma had the lowest central pressure of 882 millibars and “…dumped more than five feet of rain on part of the Yucatan Peninsula”. What really made the low central pressure so astonishing was how quickly it dropped. This is what really makes Wilma so intense was in twenty-four hours it dropped 100 millibars, “… rate of 4.2 millibars an hour”. Therefore, this can be translated as in twenty-four hours, Wilma starting as a tropical storm to a Category 5.

Another physical characteristic that broke records is the size of the eye. The eye was a record of 2 miles long, which Washington Post quote from a forecaster named Jack Beven calling it “the dreaded pinhole eye”. Hurricane Wilma also at that time broke the record of cutting power to over 3.2 million homes. Wilma severely impacted South Florida in areas like Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach County. For Broward County, “Wilma was the most severe storm in half a century…”. Even from thirteen years ago, Wilma will never be forgotten. With Wilma, scientists have and are still learning about intensification. Sparking this research helps us in future and even last hurricane season. With these powerful hurricanes, being able to predicted their intensity and course can save many lives. As always through the chaos and destruction of these hurricanes, there is always a positive aspect of communities coming together to rebuild and support one another.

01 February 2021

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