Max Mayfield: Watching the Heat

By Max Mayfield - Hurricane Specialist
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MIAMI - Most South Florida residents, including me, are watching the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.  But I'm also watching the heat in the Atlantic Basin.

The source of energy for a tropical cyclone is warm water.  In fact, a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for tropical cyclone formation is water temperature of at least 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius).  One reason given for the prediction of an active hurricane season by long-range forecasters is the warm sea surface temperatures currently over portions of the Atlantic.

Scientists have also learned that it is not only the sea surface temperatures that count.  It matters how deep the warm water extends in the ocean. 

After years of research from several university and government scientists, NOAA has started producing an operational product called the "Ocean Heat Content" that incorporates the depth of warm water.  Hurricane forecasters can now use this to help with tropical cyclone intensity forecasting. 

Today's graphic shows the highest values of Ocean Heat Content over portions of the tropical Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.  Once a tropical cyclone develops, you can think of these areas as sources of high octane fuel needed for tropical cyclone intensification.

Let's enjoy watching the Miami Heat in the seventh and deciding game of the NBA finals.  After the final game, I'll start paying more attention to the Ocean Heat Content in the Atlantic as we head toward the more active part of the hurricane season.

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