Phenomena

Typhoon Neoguri

Astronaut Reid Wiseman has been posting photos of Typhoon Neoguri in his Twitter feed this week. From our perspective on the ground, it’s easy to forget how three-dimensional the typhoons and hurricanes in our atmosphere are. But Wiseman’s photos capture the depth in the storm, especially the depression of the eye. From the top, the typhoon looks much like a vortex in a bathtub, or what’s more formally known as a free surface vortex. To understand why a vortex dips in the middle, imagine a container of water on a rotating plate. As the water is spun, its interface with the air takes on a paraboloid shape. Two external forces are acting on the fluid: gravity in the downward direction and a centrifugal force in the radial direction. The free surface of the fluid adopts a shape that is always perpendicular to the combination of these two forces. This ensures that the pressure along the free surface is a constant. (Photo credits: R. Wiseman 1,2,3)

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