STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

Hurricane Scientists in the Field

In the United States, 10 million people live in hurricane danger zones. Given the storms of the past few weeks, I figured now would be the perfect time to introduce Amy Cherrix’s book – released this spring.

Eye of the Storm: NASA, drones, and the race to crack the hurricane code (Scientists in the Field Series), by Amy Sherrix (80 pages; ages 10-14; HMH, 2017)

Cherrix is no stranger to hurricanes, having survived the devastation of four major storms. So her first chapter, a story of a family caught by Hurricane Sandy (October, 2012) tingles with true life fight for survival. Sandy, you may recall, was a “frankenstorm” – a combined hurricane-snowstorm. Thought it was classified as a category 1 hurricane (Irma was category 5, Harvey a category 4) it was much larger. Sandy measured 1100 miles across and affected 24 states, from Maine to Florida and as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin. While the coast suffered from rain and storm surge, inland areas were buried in three feet of snow.

The thing is, meteorologists can, using weather satellites and early warning systems, see hurricanes taking shape days – sometimes weeks – before they make landfall. Cherrix introduces us to the researchers behind the science and tools that meteorologists depend on. But first, she gives us a physics lesson in hurricane formation.

Did you know that Atlantic hurricanes are “born” in the driest place on earth? They come from the Sahara Desert, and some of that desert dust may affect the intensity of the hurricane. Cyclonic storms are forming all around the earth all times of the year. We may not be able to stop them from forming, says Cherrix, but we can certainly learn more about how they grow and change. And while she points out that we can’t control the force (or intensity) of these storms, there are some who say that our contributions to climate change has done just that. “A warming planet means wetter storms, higher storm surges and more intense hurricanes, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory,” explains a recent article in the Houston Chronicle.

Eye of the Storm reads like a science adventure. We meet the scientists who follow the data that their probes send back. Some of those are dropsondes,  probes that fall through the storm and measure pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, and gps locations. They also send out thousands of rapid light pulses each second that scatter off particles in the storm and are bounced back to an instrument that reads the data. There are drone pilots on the ground and an in-air pilot to keep an eye in the sky.

At the end, Cherrix has an emergency preparedness checklist: an evacuation kit to put together before the storm, how to prepare for pet evacuations, and what to do after the storm. There’s also a great list of apps for smart phones and tablets, and more.

Author: Sue Heavenrich

I write about science and environmental issues for children and their families.

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