Satellites capture swirling vortex of lightning storms around Hurricane Dorian

While it looks mesmerizing, lightning usually increases just before storms intensify... and that's not good.


As Hurricane Dorian continues on its current (and highly destructive) path, it appears to have also unleashed a lightning storm. Starting August, several satellites were pointed to the hurricane's path to track its progression. Meteorologist Dakota Smith looped together multiple images from the end of August, compiling a spectacular show of flashing lights in and around the eye of swirling, Category 5-hurricane Dorian.

"I created the loop mainly to visualise how incredible hurricanes are," Smith, who works at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, told ScienceAlert. "The new satellite imagery we can get our hands on is incredible."

The storm's violent light-show is apparent in Smith's videos, indicating that further trouble could be brewing. Several flashes can be seen going off near the inner core of Hurricane Dorian. This suggests the worst is yet to come, according to the ScienceAlert report. While it isn't usual or rare to spot flashes of lightning inside a tropical cyclone, they tend to strike infrequently and away from the hurricane's centre.

Experts think the flashes of lightning in and around Dorian's eye are an ominous sign because past observations have revealed that lightning is produced in a hurricane's centre when a hurricane grows at a rapid rate. Recent research has supported this finding, concluding that lightning increases right before storms intensify. Lightning flashes are thought to be useful in hurricane forecasting.

Satellites capture swirling vortex of lightning storms around Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian satellite view. Image: NOAA

"Generally there's not a lot of lightning in the hurricane eyewall region," atmospheric scientist Richard Blakeslee explains on NASA's website. "So when people detect a lot of lightning in a hurricane, they perk up — they say, okay, something's happening."

Hurricane Dorian, which slowed from a Category 5 to a still powerful Category 4 storm, continues to pound the Bahamas with incredibly strong winds and rainfall. As of 3 September, the storm is battering the island nation and is predicted to continue on to Florida and the Carolinas later this week. The storm, now classified as a Category 4 'major' hurricane, is powerful enough to rip off roofs from houses and uproot trees with its ~233 kph winds.

Dorian is estimated to be the second-most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

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