NASA Looks at Hurricane Irma’s Heat Engine

Sep. 06, 2017 — Data from the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite combined with World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) shows Hurricane Irma is already creating intense lightning. In this illustration, according to NASA, “each flash is indicated by a yellow sphere plotted at 5 km (3.1 mile) altitude. There is lightning in the ring of convection surrounding the eye, which indicates that Hurricane Irma’s heat-engine is in high-gear. Lightning is also seen in the rainband that contains the hot tower (on the left side of the image).” The heat-engine refers to hot, humid air rising from the hurricane. Friction generated by the rising air molecules create static electric charges that form lightning when they discharge.

Lightning is a serious hazard that, along with high winds, storm surge, and flooding caused by hurricanes, results in lightning damage that destroys property and kills and injures people. It also interferes with emergency operations during the storm and complicates recovery.