Tracking the storm

By By Paige Fieldsted

By Paige Fieldsted

Deep in the Gulf of Mexico, a low-pressure storm system that formed fewer than 24 hours ago picked up speed and became Tropical Storm Gert.

A burst of rising air, weak wind shear and ocean surface temperature could all be reasons for Tropical Storm Gert’s rapid growth, according to Zhaoxia Pu, assistant professor of meteorology at the U.

“If we know which factors could affect tropical-storm growth, then we have better chance to predict the tropical-storm development,” Pu said.

Xuanli Li, a meteorology graduate student, and Pu have conducted studies to find the factors that affect a storm’s growth and development.

By using a four-dimensional structure, height, weight, depth and time, Li and Pu are able to better understand storm development.

Because there are no tropical storms to study in Utah, Li and Pu use computer simulations to do their research.

“By creating high-resolution computer model simulations, we were able to reveal the major structural features as they evolved,” Li said. “The computer simulation accurately captured the rapid increase in the upward motion of the air inside Gert when the storm strengthened from a tropical depression to a tropical storm.”

While it is unlikely that a tropical storm will be hitting Utah anytime soon, the entire nation felt the effects of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma when they hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, all of which started as low pressure air systems.

“Tropical-storm growth is mainly associated with tropical cyclone formation?Tropical cyclones (hurricane landfall) usually cause a lot of damage,” Pu said.

Better understanding of tropical-storm growth could give advanced warning to high-risk areas and help prepare them for intense tropical storms.

“If we know which factors could affect tropical-storm growth, then we have a better chance to predict the tropical-storm development,” Pu said.

The advancements Li and Pu have made in the study of tropical-storm growth are helping meteorologists around the world predict and prepare for tropical storms in hopes of avoiding another Hurricane Katrina-like disaster.