At the center of powerful Hurricane Michael, clouds circle a small opening of calm air.
As Hurricane Michael, now a Category 4 storm, bears down on the Florida Panhandle, a hypnotizing, close-up view from far above Earth shows the whirling clouds circling its eye.
Time-lapse video was captured Wednesday morning (Oct. 10) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite GOES-16 and was shared online by the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA), an organization conducting interdisciplinary research in the atmospheric sciences.
The footage shows 30 seconds of Michael’s eye in the visible light spectrum, condensed to about 10 seconds. An eerie pocket of calm air is visible at the very center, and as the eye rotates, it creates ripples that can be seen radiating outward through the dense clouds surrounding it. [Hurricane Season 2018: How Long It Lasts and What to Expect]
Clusters of so-called “hot towers” within the eye provide additional fuel for the storm and likely contributed to Michael’s swift intensification to Category 4 strength, Forbes reported. Hot towers are tall clouds that can reach heights of 9 miles (14 kilometers) and “breathe fire into the hurricane,” NASA reported in 2004. These clouds gain their height from heat released by water vapor; their presence indicates that a storm will be twice as likely to intensify “within hours,” according to NASA.
Though the center of Michael’s eye is warm, clouds around it are very cold, with some as cold as minus 126 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 88 degrees Celsius), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported on Tuesday (Oct. 9).
The wall of clouds around the eye is also sparkling with lightning, Philippe Papin, an atmospheric scientist with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, wrote in a tweet. Papin shared an annotated satellite view, marking the locations of the lighting bursts within the storm.
Even as #HurricaneMichael is nearing landfall near #PanamaCity & #MexicoBeach in #Florida, the amount of lightning in the eyewall has not decreased. In fact it’s undergoing another inner core lightning burst right at landfall! pic.twitter.com/azHovBsfc0
— Philippe Papin (@pppapin) October 10, 2018
Michael is traveling at about 14 mph (23 km/h) and is expected to make landfall along the Florida Panhandle early this afternoon, as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm may strengthen even further after it reaches land, the National Hurricane Center warned in a public advisory issued this morning.
Originally published on Live Science.