Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Tornado


Fire whirls are powerful, spinning disasters for people and surroundings when they occur in large urban and wildland fires. Whereas fire whirls have been studied for fire-safety applications, previous research has yet to harness their potential burning efficiency for enhanced combustion. This article presents laboratory studies of fire whirls initiated as pool fires, but where the fuel sits on a water surface, suggesting the idea of exploiting the high efficiency of fire whirls for oil-spill remediation. We show the transition from a pool fire, to a fire whirl, and then to a previously unobserved state, a “blue whirl.” A blue whirl is smaller, very stable, and burns completely blue as a hydrocarbon flame, indicating soot-free burning. The combination of fast mixing, intense swirl, and the water-surface boundary creates the conditions leading to nearly soot-free combustion. With the worldwide need to reduce emissions from both wanted and unwanted combustion, discovery of this state points to possible new pathways for reduced-emission combustion and fuel-spill cleanup. Because current methods to generate a stable vortex are difficult, we also propose that the blue whirl may serve as a research platform for fundamental studies of vortices and vortex breakdown in fluid mechanics.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Hydrogen, Tornado, Fire, Combustion, Vortices, Fuel, Flame


Tornadoes cause loss of life and damage to property each year in the United States and around the world. The largest impacts come from ‘outbreaks’ consisting of multiple tornadoes closely spaced in time. Here we find an upward trend in the annual mean number of tornadoes per US tornado outbreak for the period 1954-2014. Moreover, the variance of this quantity is increasing more than four times as fast as the mean. The mean and variance of the number of tornadoes per outbreak vary according to Taylor’s power law of fluctuation scaling (TL), with parameters that are consistent with multiplicative growth. Tornado-related atmospheric proxies show similar power-law scaling and multiplicative growth. Path-length-integrated tornado outbreak intensity also follows TL, but with parameters consistent with sampling variability. The observed TL power-law scaling of outbreak severity means that extreme outbreaks are more frequent than would be expected if mean and variance were independent or linearly related.

Concepts: Time, Arithmetic mean, Mean, Probability theory, Standard deviation, Cauchy distribution, Tornado, Means


Understanding how animals respond to atmospheric conditions across space is critical for understanding the evolution of flight strategies and long-distance migrations. We studied the three-dimensional movements and energetics of great frigate birds (Fregata minor) and showed that they can stay aloft for months during transoceanic flights. To do this, birds track the edge of the doldrums to take advantage of favorable winds and strong convection. Locally, they use a roller-coaster flight, relying on thermals and wind to soar within a 50- to 600-meter altitude band under cumulus clouds and then glide over kilometers at low energy costs. To deal with the local scarcity of clouds and gain longer gliding distances, birds regularly soar inside cumulus clouds to use their strong updraft, and they can reach altitudes of 4000 meters, where freezing conditions occur.

Concepts: Weather, Bird, Tornado, Flying and gliding animals, Cloud, Frigatebird, Thermal, Cumulus cloud


Temporally inconsistent and potentially unreliable global historical data hinder the detection of trends in tropical cyclone activity. This limits our confidence in evaluating proposed linkages between observed trends in tropical cyclones and in the environment. Here we mitigate this difficulty by focusing on a metric that is comparatively insensitive to past data uncertainty, and identify a pronounced poleward migration in the average latitude at which tropical cyclones have achieved their lifetime-maximum intensity over the past 30 years. The poleward trends are evident in the global historical data in both the Northern and the Southern hemispheres, with rates of 53 and 62 kilometres per decade, respectively, and are statistically significant. When considered together, the trends in each hemisphere depict a global-average migration of tropical cyclone activity away from the tropics at a rate of about one degree of latitude per decade, which lies within the range of estimates of the observed expansion of the tropics over the same period. The global migration remains evident and statistically significant under a formal data homogenization procedure, and is unlikely to be a data artefact. The migration away from the tropics is apparently linked to marked changes in the mean meridional structure of environmental vertical wind shear and potential intensity, and can plausibly be linked to tropical expansion, which is thought to have anthropogenic contributions.

Concepts: Tropic of Cancer, Thunderstorm, Tropical cyclone, Tornado, Cyclone, Wind, Equator, Wind shear


Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms kill people and damage property every year. Estimated U.S. insured losses due to severe thunderstorms in the first half of 2016 were 8.5 billion USD. The largest U.S. impacts of tornadoes result from tornado outbreaks, which are sequences of tornadoes that occur in close succession. Here, using extreme value analysis, we find that the frequency of U.S. outbreaks with many tornadoes is increasing and is increasing faster for more extreme outbreaks. We model this behavior by extreme value distributions with parameters that are linear functions of time or of some indicators of multidecadal climatic variability. Extreme meteorological environments associated with severe thunderstorms show consistent upward trends, but the trends do not resemble those currently expected to result from global warming.

Concepts: Precipitation, Weather, Climate change, Storm, Thunderstorm, Tornado, Global warming, Severe weather


By using a half soap bubble heated from below, we obtain large isolated single vortices whose properties as well as their intensity are measured under different conditions. By studying the effects of rotation of the bubble on the vortex properties, we found that rotation favors vortices near the pole. Rotation also inhibits long life time vortices. The velocity and vorticity profiles of the vortices obtained are well described by a Gaussian vortex. Besides, the intensity of these vortices can be followed over long time spans revealing periods of intensification accompanied by trochoidal motion of the vortex center, features which are reminiscent of the behavior of tropical cyclones. An analysis of this intensification period suggests a simple relation valid for both the vortices observed here and for tropical cyclones.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Tropical cyclone, Tornado, Soap, Vortices, Vortex, Bubbles, Soap bubble


Hurricane-intensity forecast improvements currently lag the progress achieved for hurricane tracks. Integrated ocean observations and simulations during hurricane Irene (2011) reveal that the wind-forced two-layer circulation of the stratified coastal ocean, and resultant shear-induced mixing, led to significant and rapid ahead-of-eye-centre cooling (at least 6 °C and up to 11 °C) over a wide swath of the continental shelf. Atmospheric simulations establish this cooling as the missing contribution required to reproduce Irene’s accelerated intensity reduction. Historical buoys from 1985 to 2015 show that ahead-of-eye-centre cooling occurred beneath all 11 tropical cyclones that traversed the Mid-Atlantic Bight continental shelf during stratified summer conditions. A Yellow Sea buoy similarly revealed significant and rapid ahead-of-eye-centre cooling during Typhoon Muifa (2011). These findings establish that including realistic coastal baroclinic processes in forecasts of storm intensity and impacts will be increasingly critical to mid-latitude population centres as sea levels rise and tropical cyclone maximum intensities migrate poleward.

Concepts: Precipitation, Atlantic Ocean, Storm, Tropical cyclone, Tornado, Cyclone, Rain, Extratropical cyclone


Whether or not climate change has had an impact on the occurrence of tornadoes in the United States has become a question of high public and scientific interest, but changes in how tornadoes are reported have made it difficult to answer it convincingly. We show that, excluding the weakest tornadoes, the mean annual number of tornadoes has remained relatively constant, but their variability of occurrence has increased since the 1970s. This is due to a decrease in the number of days per year with tornadoes combined with an increase in days with many tornadoes, leading to greater variability on annual and monthly time scales and changes in the timing of the start of the tornado season.

Concepts: United States, Thunderstorm, Tornado, Funk, Bangladesh, Severe weather, Tornado Alley, Tornadogenesis


General circulation models show that as the surface temperature increases, the convective anvil clouds shrink. By analyzing radiative-convective equilibrium simulations, we show that this behavior is rooted in basic energetic and thermodynamic properties of the atmosphere: As the climate warms, the clouds rise and remain at nearly the same temperature, but find themselves in a more stable atmosphere; this enhanced stability reduces the convective outflow in the upper troposphere and decreases the anvil cloud fraction. By warming the troposphere and increasing the upper-tropospheric stability, the clustering of deep convection also reduces the convective outflow and the anvil cloud fraction. When clouds are radiatively active, this robust coupling between temperature, high clouds, and circulation exerts a positive feedback on convective aggregation and favors the maintenance of strongly aggregated atmospheric states at high temperatures. This stability iris mechanism likely contributes to the narrowing of rainy areas as the climate warms. Whether or not it influences climate sensitivity requires further investigation.

Concepts: Precipitation, Temperature, Thermodynamics, Heat, Gas, Atmosphere, Entropy, Tornado


Phenomena such as cyclones, fronts and thunderstorms can cause extreme weather in various regions throughout the world. Although these phenomena have been examined in numerous studies, they have not all been systematically examined in combination with each other, including in relation to extreme precipitation and extreme winds throughout the world. Consequently, the combined influence of these phenomena represents a substantial gap in the current understanding of the causes of extreme weather events. Here we present a systematic analysis of cyclones, fronts and thunderstorms in combination with each other, as represented by seven different types of storm combinations. Our results highlight the storm combinations that most frequently cause extreme weather in various regions of the world. The highest risk of extreme precipitation and extreme wind speeds is found to be associated with a triple storm type characterized by concurrent cyclone, front and thunderstorm occurrences. Our findings reveal new insight on the relationships between cyclones, fronts and thunderstorms and clearly demonstrate the importance of concurrent phenomena in causing extreme weather.

Concepts: Precipitation, Storm, Tropical cyclone, Tornado, Wind, Extreme weather, Severe weather, Weather hazards