"I've always been fascinated by the power of hurricanes," Justin says, even while he was in high school in Maryland. Knowing his family would be moving to Florida last year, he hooked up with the Miami office of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and began studying his favorite phenomenon in earnest.

Initially, he is focusing on the role played in hurricane intensification by warm-water pools in the Gulf of Mexico. Known as warm core rings (WCRs), the pools have proved to be a potent factor. After conducting the first census of WCRs using satellite data, he overlaid that map with an 11-year history of the tracks of tropical cyclones, some of which eventually developed wind speeds of over 64 knots and earned hurricane status. Justin found that two storms passed over a WCR each year, typically. And the heat that these storms sucked up increased their wind speeds by an average of 13.4 knots.

Watching approaching storms to see if a WCR is in their path could help improve predictions of the strength of hurricanes and tropical cyclones, Justin believes. That's important, he notes, because "the value of my research isn't in the elegant equations and mathematical models, but in the potential to reduce the impact of hurricanes on the economy. Hurricanes and their forecasts affect everything from insurance rates to gasoline prices."

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Justin A. Kovac


As Computers Grow Ever Smarter

Graduated from Montgomery Blair High School
Silver Spring, Md.

Hobbies: Trombone, physics, track, snorkeling, swing dancing

Ambition: Engineering