WASHINGTON, July 29 (UPI) -- Scientists say they'll venture to the Atlantic Ocean to answer a mystery about hurricanes -- why do storms become hurricanes while other harmlessly dissipate?
A major field study of thunderstorms in tropical Atlantic waters is intended to help weather forecasters provide more timely warnings to interests in harm's way, a National Center for Atmospheric Research release said Thursday.
Many storms develop too quickly for people in their path to make preparations. In 2007 scattered Atlantic thunderstorms organized and quickly grew into Hurricane Felix, a category 5 storm that caused widespread loss of life and destruction in Nicaragua and Honduras.
"One of the great longstanding mysteries about hurricanes is how they form," Christopher Davis, NCAR scientist and principal investigator on the project, said. "There are clusters of thunderstorms every day in the tropics, but we don't know why some of them develop into hurricanes while others don't."
Based on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the project will use a research aircraft with a range of 7,000 miles, flying at 43,000 feet, to gather data as thunderstorms form.
Better information on how storms form and come together could give vital clues to forecasting, Davis said.
"We need to anticipate hurricane formation to prepare for hazards that could develop several days later," he said.