The images above — prepared by NASA hurricane researcher Owen Kelly — were taken on Sunday, before Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the United States' Northeast coast. They're made from radar data collected by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite, and they show a feature of this storm that helps explain why it's caused much more destruction than you might expect from a Category 1 hurricane.
In the right-hand image, showing a close-up of the storm's eye, you can see a feature labeled "eyewall". Those are vertical cloud walls that surround the eye, and they're the spot with the strongest winds in the whole storm.
Placed in context, the TRMM-observed properties of Hurricane Sandy’s eyewall are evidence of remarkable vigor. Most hurricanes only have well-formed and compact eyewalls at category 3 strength or higher. Sandy was not only barely a category 1 hurricane, but Sandy was also experiencing strong wind shear, Sandy was going over ocean typically too cold to form hurricanes, and Sandy had been limping along as a marginal hurricane for several days.
That eyewall, says NASA and New Scientist, is the result of Sandy's Frankenstorm nature. Despite all the factors that should have made this storm weak, it represented the merging of several storm systems. Because of that, Sandy was stronger than a Category 1 storm normally is.
Via Michael Marshall
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.