Large Storm Swirling Off Antarctica Illustrates Frequent Turbulence of Southern Ocean

By Sean Breslin
Published: March 6, 2014

This photo captured by a satellite on March 5, 2014 shows the big storm swirling at the bottom of the world. (Dundee SRS)

The Atlantic Ocean is normally a breeding ground for hurricanes that threaten the United States during the summer months, but a couple thousand miles to the south, storms in the Southern Ocean can be even more perilous.

One such storm was captured by satellites Wednesday, spinning over the open ocean north of Antarctica. In the Southern Hemisphere, it's the end of summer, and storms of this size and magnitude occur frequently in the Southern Ocean, according to senior meteorologist Jon Erdman.

(PHOTOS: Explore the World's Deepest Blue Hole)

"Deep, intense storms are typical of the Southern Ocean, thanks to the intense temperature contrast between Antarctica and the ocean," said Erdman. "Average wind speeds are the strongest anywhere on Earth."

These storm systems are often hundreds or even thousands of miles wide , and central pressures bottom out at extremely low levels. Erdman said the European forecast model initialized a central pressure between 941 and 943 millibars in its center for this storm Wednesday, a similar level to a storm system that pounded Europe during Christmas 2013. In that storm, at least five people were killed, hundreds of thousands lost power and many travelers spent Christmas Day stranded at European airports, unable to fly through the stormy weather.

(MORE: The 5 Snowiest American Cities 2013-14)

According to Weather Underground's Christopher Burt, a French expedition based in Port Martin, Antarctica measured an average 24-hour wind speed of 108 mph on March 21-22, 1951, a record high for anywhere in the world.

Below is another image of the monster storm that better shows where on the map these storms often occur.


Photo captured by EUMETSAT

MORE: Blood Falls of Antarctica

Blood Falls seeps from the end of the Taylor Glacier into Lake Bonney. The tent at left provides a sense of scale for just how big the phenomenon is. (Peter Rejcek/National Science Foundation)

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