Finding the Fibonacci Sequence in a Hurricane

The golden ratio is revealed in numbers and in nature's way. (Photo: Mark Rademaker/Shutterstock)

One of the things that drove me to enroll back in school last year after a decade+ stint being "a grown up" was the desire to learn more about the intersection of math and nature.

Humans have been using numbers and abstraction to explain and think about our universe for a long time, but we have only recently begun to really gain a sense of the kind of math that actually governs the world around us. Computers have allowed us to unlock some of the secrets behind non-Euclidian concepts like fractal geometry, and it seems that wherever we look in nature, no matter what the scale, we end up finding the same thing — complex systems driven by simple rules.

Fibonacci Sequence Explained

One of those sets of rules that we find all over nature is the Fibonacci sequence. Here's what I wrote about the sequence in an earlier post:

The Fibonacci sequence is made up of numbers that are the sum of the previous two numbers in the sequence, starting with 0 and 1. It's 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144...
1 is 0+1, 2 is 1+1, 3 is 1+2, 5 is 2+3, and 8 is 3+5. The number after 144 is 233, or 89+144.

The physical manifestation of the Fibonacci sequence very closely matches the Golden Spiral and it shows up all over nature from flowers to seashells to cells to entire galaxies. A quick image search will turn up countless examples.

Fibonacci Sequence in Hurricane Rita

hurricane, golden spiral, fibonacci
It's not difficult to see the pattern in Hurricane Rita as it approached the Louisiana and Texas shore on Sept. 23, 2005. (Photo: Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC)


If you'd like to learn more about the Fibonacci sequence, Vi Hart of the Khan Academy is a good place to start.