New Research Finds Salt May Be Key to Predicting Hurricane Intensity

By Mike Schuler.

It’s no secret that salt has played an outsized role throughout human history. Now, new research conducted by NOAA, with the help from Saildrone’s unmanned surface vehicles, says the element could potentially lead to improved forecasts of the most dangerous hurricanes.

While NOAA has made steady progress in forecasting the track of a hurricane, progress has been slow in improving prediction of what’s called rapid intensification of hurricanes, defined as when the maximum wind speeds that drive a hurricane rapidly increase by 35 miles per hour or more in 24 hours or less.

A prime example was Hurricane Michael in 2018, a Category 5 hurricane that came ashore on the Florida Panhandle with ferocious 160 mph winds, leading to 16 deaths and $25 billion in damages.

What’s Salt Got To Do With It?

While it is well known that one of the key ingredients for hurricanes to rapidly intensify is warm sea surface waters, it turns out that these waters are sometimes prevented from cooling due to a lack of saltiness.

What’s happening is that freshwater from major rivers that flow into the ocean where hurricanes form and grow can create a layer on the surface of much warmer, fresher water, NOAA explains in new blog post.