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BY GEORGE: Energy In Hurricanes

One can look at total energy produced in a hurricane one of two ways:

1. The total amount of energy released by the condensation of water droplets or

2. The amount of kinetic energy generated to maintain the strong swirling winds of the hurricane.

It turns out that the vast majority of the heat released in the condensation process is used to cause rising motions in the thunderstorms and only a small portion drives the storm's horizontal winds. Either method shows an enormous amount energy being generated by hurricanes. However, one can see that the amount of energy released in a hurricane (by creating clouds/rain) that actually goes to maintaining the hurricane's spiraling winds is a huge ratio of 400 to 1.

Let's start with the hurricanes low-pressure "eye" and multitudes of thunderstorms spinning around it. You probably know that these large tropical cyclones are releasing a lot of energy. But how much is a lot, really? Well, that depends on how you measure it, but any way you slice it, hurricanes release a phenomenal amount of energy.

If we start by looking at just the energy generated by the winds, we find that for a typical mature hurricane, we get numbers in the range of 1.5 times 10 to the twelfth power Watts. That’s 1.5 times 10 with a lot of zeros after it! (This is according to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.) This is equivalent to about half of the total electrical generating capacity on the planet! For a single hurricane! But that's not all, we're just getting started.

A hurricane also releases energy through the formation of clouds and rain (it takes energy to evaporate all that water). If we crunch the numbers for an average hurricane we get a gigantic amount of energy: 6.0 times 10 to the fourteenth power of energy! That’s 6.0 times 10 with a whole lot of zeros! This is equivalent to about 200 times the total electrical generating capacity on the planet! During its life cycle, a hurricane can expend as much energy as 10,000 nuclear bombs! And we're just talking about average hurricanes here, not a Katrina or Sandy, and certainly not a Hugo.

Simply put, there’s a tremendous amount of energy exchange going on in a hurricane, and that’s just a tiny fraction of the atmospheric global energy production of everyday life in our atmosphere.

By: George Elliott

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