Warmer Water, SUPER HURRICANES

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:33 PM GMT on July 24, 2007

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The July 2007 issue of Scientific American has an article called "Warmer Oceans, Stronger Hurricanes" (referred to as "Warmer Water, SUPER HURRICANES" on the cover). The article is written by Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and a lead author on the landmark 2007 climate report issued by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The article makes the case that "evidence is mounting that global warming enhances a cyclone's damaging winds and flooding rains." The article presents some solid evidence to substantiate that point of view, which I will share below. However, I was disappointed in the general tone of the piece, which was over-hyped and did not paint an objective view of the current scientific thinking on the global warming/hurricane issue.

The hype
First off, the reader is hit with a dramatic full-page artist's depiction of the global super-hurricane of the future--a massive 5000-mile diameter Caribbean storm the size of North America. The storm's 200-mile eye is wider than the Florida Peninsula! Whoa, I said when looking at the whopper "SciAmicane". No doubt many readers perusing the magazine, trying to decide whether to buy it, had the same reaction and plunked down their $5 to read about this grim threat. OK, lets talk reality here. The largest tropical cyclone on record, Supertyphoon Tip of 1979, had a diameter of 1380 miles--less than one third the size of the SciAmicane. A storm like the SciAmicane cannot physically exist on Earth unless the oceans were to super-heat to about 122°F (50°C). Only an asteroid impact or similar calamity could create such a hypercane. Even the most extreme global warming scenarios do not heat the oceans to 122°, so the SciAmicane is there to sell magazines, not to illustrate what global warming might do to hurricanes.


Figure 1. Comparison of sizes: the Earth, the largest tropical cyclone on record (Supertyphoon Tip of 1979, 1380 miles in diameter), and the recently discovered hurricane-like vortex on Saturn (the Saturnicane). The "SciAmicane" is about the same size as the Saturnicane--5000 miles across.

The article also calls attention to 2004, when "an unprecedented four hurricanes hit Florida, and 10 typhoons made landfall in Japan". I've erroneously made this statement, too, but the truth is that Japan was hit by only four typhoons in 2004. Ten tropical cyclones that were of typhoon strength at some point during their life did hit, yes, but six of these had decayed to tropical storm or tropical depression strength by the time they hit Japan. The article then refers to a "consensus explanation" emerging to explain recent hurricane activity patterns, and "that explanation forebodes meteorological trouble over the long term." I'd say that the issue is still very much under dispute. In fact, the consensus statement on hurricanes and climate change adopted by the World Meteorological Organization in December 2006, in response to the recommendations of a panel of 125 hurricane researchers was thus: "Though there is evidence both for and against the existence of a detectable anthropogenic signal in the tropical cyclone climate record to date, no firm conclusion can be made on this point." Trenberth's article gives a list of four publications to read in the "more to explore" section, but none of these include the recent articles that call into question the strength of the global warming/stronger hurricane connection. (I apologize for not reviewing the many excellent articles that have appeared on this subject of late!)

The good science
There's quite a bit of good science in the article, which is worth reading if one keeps in mind its biases. In particular, I like the discussion of how global warming has affected precipitation and atmospheric water vapor. The 0.6°C (1.0°F) rise in Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) globally since 1970 has increased water vapor in the atmosphere by 4%, thanks to increased evaporation. This in turn has led to an 8% increase in global precipitation. Trenberth makes the point that no given hurricane can be blamed on global warming, but one can say 8% of a given storm's rainfall is due to global warming. There's also a nice discussion about how weaker than normal trade winds over the tropical Atlantic in 2005 caused less evaporational cooling than normal, allowing the ocean to heat to record temperatures. Finally, the conclusion of the article is one I certainly agree with:

We would all be wise to plan for more extreme hurricane threats.

Both theory and computer models predict a 3-5% increase in hurricane winds per degree C increase in tropical SSTs, and there is concern that the actual increase may be much more than this.

Jeff Masters

For a technical treatment of hypercanes, see Dr. Kerry Emanuel's paper, Hypercanes: a possible link in global extinction scenarios.

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1641. StormJunkie
11:34 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
No ryan, you are part of everyone :~)
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1640. ryang
7:32 PM AST on July 25, 2007
I agree with JP, it could refire convection tonight.
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1639. StormJunkie
11:32 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Good point guygee!

jp, who exactly is everyone?
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1638. guygee
11:31 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
I got a rough fix on the cyclonic swirl some people are watching in the Western Gulf using the GHCC visible: does 22.29N, 93.82W sound about right?

That is pretty close to buoy Station 42055 located at 22.01N 94.05W. Even given that my "fix" has some reasonable error, if there is a surface circulation then I think we should see a shift in winds to a westerly component within a very few hours at Station 42055 as the apparent cyclonic swirl moves generally towards the north.
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1637. moonlightcowboy
11:28 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
...okay, so are without blob, again? lol
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
1635. StormJunkie
11:28 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
That Saturnicane scares me every time I come in this blog. Like some creepy eye...lol
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1634. hornfan
11:26 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Keeper - a large rain event in Central and Southeast texas could be worse than a fast moving Cat 1. Everyone is beyond saturated.
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1633. StormJunkie
11:27 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Welcome aboard 2780 ☺
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1632. twentyseven80
7:26 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
greetings all! been lurking for a while and decided to join. lots of good info here. hope to put my .02 every now and again
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1630. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
11:12 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
gom just going to be very big rain event from s.central texas all the way shoreline of la no t.s. or hurr. yet and for sometime to come should remain quiet until 13 or 15 aug with the exception of the odd tropical induce mositure from waves fronts and lows thats it nuttin more nuttin less
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1629. Patrap
6:22 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
Wave goodnight to the Wave!...


7
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1628. StormJunkie
11:20 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
sw, what is that potential slight Sward movement going to do to that wave as it starts to go around the bottom of the high?
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1627. StormJunkie
11:15 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Thanks cori ☺

Afternoon SW and 23, good to see y'all.

23, The GFS seems to fluctuate between the 0z-12z runs and the 6z-18z runs. Not sure if that is what is going on with the CATL wave, but I have seen this quite a few times form the GFS. Gets in to a string where the 0 and 12 will take one solution and then the 6 and 18 take another over a few sets of runs. Just my opinion/guess here though.
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1625. RL3AO
6:12 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
The sun has just set over the CAtl wave so we will see what it does before morning.
1624. hurricane23
7:04 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
The wave in the central atlantic is looseing some punch as thunderstorm activity has decreased over the past 2-3 hours.
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1623. Patrap
6:08 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service Houston/Galveston Texas
247 PM CDT Wednesday Jul 25 2007


Discussion...
scattered showers and a few thunderstorms moving in off the Gulf
and into the coastal counties. Impressive clusters of storms over
crp/bro County Warning Area border. Moisture recovering quickly with 1.5" precipitable water over
the County Warning Area risen to this morning at lfk had 1.06" and vct 1.99" and
by 2 PM still higher. Ll flow strengthening as well as upper SW
flow across southeast Texas. Very impressive mass of rain showers/thunderstorms and rain over the
Bay of campheche at 18z...going through some fluctuations but it
does have some strong upper level ventilation on the north side as
this flow over southeast Texas/la strengthens this afternoon and tonight.

With this aside very impressive precipitable water over the western Gulf will be
spreading north and should edge into the County Warning Area tonight and Thursday.
2.2 to 2.5" precipitable water will be over the region by Thursday night and
Friday adding tremendously to the threat of very heavy rainfall.
(Nam forecasts precipitable water near 2.65") seems likely that Flash Flood Watch will
be needed either Thursday or Thursday night so following shifts
may be issuing one. (If the NAM is correct with the forecast of
this Gulf system getting organized rain threat would be even
higher.) So far the GFS is just progging a big increase in
moisture with no organization. TPC on the same Page with
impressive upper support for this surge (see recent twdat). The
surge of moisture will be in place through Saturday and perhaps
Sunday. Stay tuned on this.
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1622. Dakster
11:04 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Tropical rainstorms have finally paid off for lake okeechobee. Lake O finally gets flow.

The Kissimmee river is finally flowing water back into Lake Okeechobee, thanks to tropical rain storms that have been pounding the area...

Granted the lake is only up to 9.112 feet and has a loooonnnggg way to go, but it is a start.
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1621. stormybil
11:03 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
looks like there going to be a race between the gom and the atl. on who will be 98l first .place your bets

the odds are
gom -4-1
catl-2-1
atl--1-1 faviote
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1620. hurricane23
6:55 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
This weekend looks like a wash out as another trof of low pressure moves into the southeast.

70-80 both saturday and sunday.
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1618. Patrap
5:58 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
Florida Hi-rez Vis Link
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1617. Patrap
5:57 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
Meteo-9 WV Global,Africa
Link
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1616. sporteguy03
10:55 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Another day in paradise another troll
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1614. hurricane23
6:52 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
Nothing on this 18z run from the GFS just a couple of ghost TD'S.
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1610. sporteguy03
10:49 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
StormW,
I was in Ruskin today saw a Rainbow too!
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1609. Patrap
5:49 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
NRL Monterey Global Imagery
Link
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1608. sporteguy03
10:46 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
StormJunkie,
Outer Banks at risk again this season? Or Florida?

Tampa was a mess today, light t-shower and three lanes of traffic snarled on I-275 Over Tampa Bay imagine that in a hurricane squall line yikes. Hope we never get a Charley here again!
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1605. guygee
10:47 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
2150 GMT on 07/25/2007
Pressure at Station 42055-Bay of Campeche: 29.94"
Pressure at Station 42056-Yucatan Basin: 29.94"

At this point I am more concerned with the possibility of convection persisting near the center of the ULH near the Yucatan Straits then I am with the dying BOC blob that is pulling NE into the Gulf. In either case, though, current GOES Shear Analysis shows 20+ kts shear above about 24N uniformly across the Gulf.
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1604. corimorgan
6:28 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
I like your site Storm. Thanks for the link.
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1603. KoritheMan
5:35 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
I find it odd that the NHC would say this:

For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico...
An area of disturbed weather has developed in the western Gulf of
Mexico in association with a weak trough of low pressure. This
system is expected to move generally northwestward over the next
day or so...with little development expected due to unfavorable
upper-level winds.

I figured the upper level winds were unfavorable, but it's still odd for them to mention that. Reminds me of that disturbed weather area we had in the Gulf on July 1 of 2006.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 521 Comments: 19118
1602. HIEXPRESS
10:28 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
E Central Florida - You are now being served. SW Lake Okeechobee too. Put the boat away & retreat to your metal cages. Radar
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1601. GRDRATNAVARRE
10:22 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Is it my imagination or did the spin in the BOC blob just tuck under that heavy convection on the goes east visible, 21N 94W.
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1600. StormJunkie
10:24 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Instead, an alternating series of weak ridges and weak troughs rippling along the jet stream is expected. No particular region of the Atlantic will be at higher risk of being hit with such a pattern.-Dr M's last blog entry.

I think this is a pretty fair assessment of the situation. I don't think we will see the high that we saw in '05, but it will not be nearly as weak and broken as it was last year imho.
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1599. Tropicnerd13
10:21 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
that's interesting. im gonna go now. thunder is getting louder or my neighbor with a loud mororcycle is parking in his huge amplifying metal garage. either one i dont want to be on the computer during.
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1598. Tropicnerd13
10:15 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
thanks junkie i added it to my favorites. i see what phillies was talking about. it does say two td's will form or at least two low pressures will strengthen.
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1597. guygee
10:16 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: clwstmchasr at 9:57 PM GMT on July 25, 2007 wrote:
"Dennis Phillips, local ABC weather guy just said that he expects this trough to remain in place over Florida for the next ten days.

That completely contradicts Dr. M's post that that on or about the 29th we would have a major weather pattern change to the trough lifting out and high pressure building in much like '04 and '05.

So who do I believe?
"

Both. Forecasts change. The pattern change is "postponed". Within the NWS, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) has the responsibility for making medium and long term forecasts. That is probably the major source of information for both Dr. Master's and Dennis Phillips on the topic.
See:
Prognostic Discussions(6-10 Day Outlook)and(8-14 Day Outlook).
6-10 Day 500mb Outlook (Map).
8-14 Day 500mb Outlook (Map).

Looks like the pattern may begin to change sometime in the 8-14 day period. We need to keep watch on these forecasts.
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1596. Bamatracker
10:15 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
TN13...here is the site that offically calls things invest and knights them 98L and what not.
Link
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1595. Tropicnerd13
10:14 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
junkie got it. thanks. i meant the model runs and the 84 hr forecast that phillies was talking about.
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1594. Tropicnerd13
10:08 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
that sucks. there's a lot of moisture in the gulf and over texas. i doubt it will develop, but what direction is that heading? is it building convection everywhere in the gulf and going north? it looks like it is heading straight to texas. it is even the shape of the coast. well it is getting dark(stormy) over here and i hear thunder so i am about to get off the computer. not until i see rain though.
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1593. stormybil
10:12 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
east of fla could somthing pop up there hmmmm ?
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1592. Bamatracker
10:11 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
evening ryang
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1591. StormJunkie
10:08 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
TN, you can find several very good model pages from here, as well as some great imagery and tropical pages.
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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