VSL:SCIENCE // How hurricane season looks from space

How can something so ferocious look so beautiful? That’s the paradox of hurricanes, at least when they’re seen from several hundred miles up. They are the weather of nightmares — slow-motion monsters sucking up the ocean’s energy — but they are also gorgeous swirls of cloud, spinning around a cloudless eye.

The Big Picture blog from the Boston Globe features a stunning collection of hurricane photographs, many of which were taken aboard the International Space Station. Now that Ike has made landfall, flooding the Texas coast, and the 2008 hurricane season is drawing to a close (knock wood), it’s worth appreciating both the terrifying power and the startling grace of these weather Leviathans. While the pictures are scary — the largest storms have diameters of hundreds of miles — what’s even scarier is the possibility, suggested by several meteorological models, that global warming is increasing the destructive power of hurricanes. The causality is quite simple: Hot oceans are the power source for tropical storms, and climate change makes the hottest oceans — the average surface water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is currently above 85 degrees — even hotter.

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