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Hurricane Matthew on October 3, 2016. Image credit: NOAA/NASA
Hurricane Matthew on October 3, 2016. Image credit: NOAA/NASA

Hurricane Matthew Hits Haiti, May Head North

Hurricane Matthew on October 3, 2016. Image credit: NOAA/NASA
Hurricane Matthew on October 3, 2016. Image credit: NOAA/NASA

Hurricane Matthew is a monstrous storm unlike anything we’ve seen in the Atlantic Ocean in a long time. This morning, October 4, the Category 4 hurricane made landfall in Haiti, unleashing the brunt of its fury on the island nation—and it may soon do the same to Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bahamas. After that, the hurricane could either head out to sea or hit the U.S. East Coast head on. The hurricane is moving into a complicated weather pattern that the models are having a hard time figuring out, so we won’t know for a few more days what—if any—impacts Hurricane Matthew will have on the United States.

Data from the National Hurricane Center indicate that the storm currently has maximum sustained winds of 145 mph, ranking it as a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The storm briefly reached Category 5 intensity this past weekend, making it the strongest storm we’ve seen in the Atlantic Ocean since Hurricane Felix in 2007 and one of a handful of storms in this part of the world to ever reach the top of the wind scale. It's also the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Haiti in 52 years.

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast for Hurricane Matthew at 11:00 AM Eastern on October 3, 2016. Image credit: Dennis Mersereau

MODELING ITS POTENTIAL PATH

Hurricane Matthew’s worst winds are focused in a small part of the eyewall, but it still has a large shield of strong winds and extremely heavy rain that measures several hundred miles across. Forecasters expect deadly flash flooding and mudslides across Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bahamas as Matthew passes through the area. Some parts of Haiti could see more than 2 feet of rain, leading to potentially devastating consequences. Already there are reports of deaths. The storm surge, or the flood of seawater pushed inland by the strong winds, could reach or exceed the height of a one-story house on the southern coasts of Haiti, Cuba, and some islands in the Bahamas.

The storm’s future is still an open question once it leaves the Caribbean. Some models steer the hurricane out to sea, while others bring it into the East Coast of the United States. The models are having a tough time determining how Matthew will interact with a ridge of high pressure over the Atlantic, which acts like a guard rail that keeps the storm from turning harmlessly out to sea. There’s also a trough of low pressure approaching the East Coast from the west that could catch the hurricane and drag it north, but the models disagree about that as well. The intricate play between Matthew and its environment will determine how much of a headache the storm will cause the United States in the next seven days. Data from extra weather balloon launches and persistent Hurricane Hunter missions into the storm will hopefully give weather models some extra information to work with so they can get a better handle on what will happen this week.

Everyone along the U.S. coast from Florida to Maine should keep an eye on the National Hurricane Center’s forecasts as Matthew draws closer to land. Any potential impacts to the U.S. will occur later this week or this weekend, so there are still a few days to make sure you’re prepared for a storm and its lasting effects in the event that it heads toward the coast. Either way, Matthew will generate powerful waves and rip currents at beaches up and down the eastern seaboard. Use extreme caution if you’re visiting the beach over the next week, and stay out of the water if conditions are too rough.

An infrared satellite view of Hurricane Matthew at peak strength on September 30, 2016. Image credit: NOAA/NASA

HOW IT GREW INTO A SCALE-TOPPING HURRICANE WITH ALARMING SPEED

Impacts aside, this hurricane is fascinating from a scientific perspective. Matthew grew from a small tropical storm into a powerful, scale-topping Category 5 hurricane with alarming speed. It took just 36 hours—between 11:00 a.m. EDT on September 29 to 11:00 p.m. EDT on September 30—for the storm’s winds to jump from 70 mph to 160 mph.

What’s even worse is that no human forecast or weather model expected Hurricane Matthew to turn into the monster it became. This hurricane is a prime example of how meteorology is still an inexact science. Matthew blew up over extremely warm waters, but it faced moderate wind shear that was expected to disrupt thunderstorms around the eye and keep it from strengthening as fast as it did.

Meteorologists have made great strides in improving hurricane track forecasts over the past couple of decades. They’re able to predict the location of most storms to within about 250 miles five days in advance—still a big margin of error, but much better than it was just a few years ago. While their track forecasts have improved, meteorologists still struggle with intensity forecasts, especially when rapid intensification occurs like we saw this weekend. There’s still a lot we don’t know about how hurricanes strengthen, and Matthew is proof of that struggle.

Hurricane Matthew is also odd because it didn’t look like a traditional Category 5 hurricane at its peak strength. The storm had an intense inner core with a weird, larger “blob” of convection to its east. The odd appendage was caused by easterly trade winds converging with Matthew’s winds circulating from the southwest. We normally don’t see that in the Caribbean because storms—especially strong ones—tend to keep moving west or northwest instead of stalling out and meandering for a few days.

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MegaSecur, YouTube
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Design
The Self-Deploying Flood Barrier That Could Keep Cities Dry Without Sandbags
MegaSecur, YouTube
MegaSecur, YouTube

For many places in the world, the future is going to be wet. Climate change is already intensifying heavy rains and flooding in parts of the U.S., and it’s only expected to get worse. A recent study estimated that by 2050, more than 60 million people in the U.S. would be vulnerable to 100-year floods.

Some cities plan to meet rising waters with protective parkland, while some architects are developing floating houses. And one company has figured out how to replace piles of sandbags as emergency flood control, as Business Insider reports. Water-Gate, a line of flood protection products made by a Canadian company called MegaSecur, is a self-deploying water barrier that can be used to stop overflowing water in its tracks.

The emergency dam is made of folded canvas that, when water rushes into it, inflates up to become a kind of pocket for the water to get trapped in. You can roll it out across a street, a canal, or a creek like a giant hose, then wait for the water to arrive. In the event of a flash flood, you can even deploy it while the flood is already in progress. It can stop waters that rise up to five feet.

According to MegaSecur, one Water-Gate dam can replace thousands of sandbags, and once the floodwaters have receded, you can fold it back up and use it again. Sadly, based on the flood projections of climate change scientists, heavy flooding will soon become more and more common, and that will make reusable flood barriers necessary, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent buying, stacking, and getting rid of sandbags. The auto-deployment also means that it can be used by a single person, rather than a team of laborers. It could just as easily be set up outside a house by a homeowner as it could be set up on a city street by an emergency worker.

As climate change-related proposals go, it sounds a little more feasible than a floating house.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Weather Watch
Thanks to Desert Dust, Eastern Europe Is Covered in Orange Snow
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iStock

Certain areas of Eastern Europe are starting to look a bit like Mars. Over the last few days, snowy places like Sochi, Russia have experienced an unusual snowfall that coated mountains in orange powder, according to the BBC.

The orange snow was the result of winds blowing sand from the Sahara east to places like Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia. The sand mixes with precipitation to form orange-tinted snow. According to the BBC, the phenomenon occurs semi-regularly, turning snow orange about once every five years, but this year is especially sandy. As a result, skiers are navigating slopes that look like they're from a different world, as you can see in the video below from The Guardian.

The Sahara rarely gets snow, but when it does, the landscape can look somewhat similar, as you can see in this image of the Atlas mountains in Morocco.

Instagram is currently filled with photos and videos from Eastern Europe featuring the odd-looking snow. Check out a few samples below.

[h/t BBC]

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