The energy in Hurricane Harvey

A Hurricane takes energy from the ocean and releases it in the form of rain and wind. We measure hurricanes in categories dependent on the sustainable winds, but the wind energy is so much less than water energy. Nowhere is that more evident than in the case of hurricane Harvey. It had landfall as a category 4. At landfall Harvey generated about 6 million Megawatts  of energy or about twice as much as the world wide electrical energy produced, but it is reduced rapidly as Harvey is reduced to a tropical storm to less than a quarter of that.

This is a lot of energy, but it is dwarfed by the energy released in the condensation of the water vapor in the form of rain. This is about 800 million Megawatts, and continues in the case of Harvey for 6 days, since it got stuck near landfall and is constantly fed more energy from the ocean. This is about 250 times the worldwide electrical energy produced, and since Harvey lasts a week, that is the equivalent of about 4 years of worldwide electrical production.

The energy was generated by cooling the Mexican Gulf. Since it has been 14 years since the last major hurricane we were overripe for another major hurricane in the Gulf.

But that is not the only cooling Harvey provided. When the Sun shines over water 90 percent of all the sun’s energy is absorbed. The hurricane cloud is large, up to 500 miles in diameter or 200,000 square miles. The sun’s rays has an incoming energy of about 400 Watts per square meter, and the clouds reflect about 90 percent of the sun’s rays back into space rather than getting absorbed in the ocean or over land. The cooling effect of the hurricane Harvey from clouds is about 100 million megawatts during daytime  as long as the clouds exist. This alone is more than thirty times the worldwide electricity production.


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Engineer, graduated from Chalmers Technical University a long time ago with a degree in Technical Physics. Career in Aerospace, Analytical Chemistry, and chip manufacturing. Presently adjunct faculty at PSU, teaching one course in Computer Engineering, the Capstone Course.

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