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In the following sequence of images the passage of hurricane Katrina across the Gulf of Mexico is illustrated. These charts were adapted from charts of the Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) of the time of the hurricane's passage. They are revealing in their depiction of how the hurricane absorbs heat from the ocean as it passes through an area and also how the action of the storm moves large masses of water across vast areas of the ocean surface.
In this first image of August 26, 2005 hurricane Katrina is three days old. It was born to the north of the Dominican Republic and followed a meandering path across the Florida keys until on the 26th it approached the warm water s of the Gulf of Mexico. In the image it can be seen that a current of warm water (red) is coming out of the Caribbean Sea northward in the passage between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba. The warmth is traveling along the coast until it breaks through the passage and curls into the center of the Gulf of Mexico. A line drawn between the western tip of Cuba to the Gulf Coast between the Florida Panhandle and New Orleans would describe the meridian of 86° w longitude. This area has been very problematic this hurricane season for supporting explosive growth of moderate storms. Katrina can be seen passing south of the tip of Florida entering into the warm water off of the west coast of Florida. Much more is in store for this moderate tropical storm.
In figure 2 Katrina is crossing 86° w longitude on the 27th of August. The water left in the wake of the passing through the Florida Keys is now cooled to normal. The warm water against the west coast of Florida is being pressed by the circulation of the storm and is being driven into the NE corner of the Gulf. The flow from the Caribbean Sea to the south is still active but the cool area that was in the center of the Gulf is now dissipated and warm water is being forced to spread out in advance of the approaching storm. This is a time of great enhancement of the force of the storm as it transits the west coast of Cuba.
One day later and the Gulf of Mexico has been stripped of a remarkably large amount of warmth. The storm is now a monster disturbance. The flow of warmth through the passage from the Caribbean Sea has been absorbed. The area off of the west coast of Florida is now only moderately warm. The currents of heat that were occupying the central Gulf are now part of the storm and the rest of the warmth is being thrown against the northeast coast in waves as Katrina makes its way across the Gulf towards New Orleans. The hurricane is gobbling the warmth as it passes across the water.
A day later on August 29, the historic passage is almost complete. The waters of the Gulf are now neutral except for the northeast areas near the Texas coast. On this day the storm made a landfall inundating New Orleans.
Katrina is gone from the Gulf of Mexico. Any residual heat is now locked against the Texas coast. The Caribbean Sea is showing signs of starting a new warming process as the area near the Florida Keys also shows renewed activity.
These images show the remarkable power of a hurricane to absorb heat from the ocean and convert it into vertically moving convection currents in order to build in fury and strength.