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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2241. MrNiceville
1:09 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
03 - for those of us who are Wx amateurs, what's a line of convergence?
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2240. weathermanwannabe
8:07 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Hey All.....Texas does not need the rain, but, the Panhandle/Big Bend needs the rain so whatever happens (rain event-weak low) [notice I did not say TD or TS], I hope it does move NE...
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2239. Drakoen
1:07 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
morning everyone. The GFS still forecasting development?
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30575
2238. MrNiceville
1:06 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 1:02 PM GMT on July 26, 2007.

if there is troughiness in the east that high will be eroded and leave a weakness in the NE Gulf


Sorry - we know that all too well, here. I should have been clearer...
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2237. weatherguy03
9:06 AM EDT on July 26, 2007
If you look real close, we will need the visible loop to really see it, but if you look real close at the GOM Sat those t-storms have blown up due to convergence. You can see the convergence line move north and then there is the blowup of storms. Thats all it is, just like yesterday.
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2236. MrNiceville
1:01 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Guygee;

It's all cool - I was just joking...

As to citations, you forgot Roberts Rules of Order. Us older folks just rely on common sense and the golden rule. Of course, having a beer helps, too.

But your point is well taken - we try to be civil here. It just becomes difficult when a blogger insists on an opinion in ALL CAPS repeatedly...
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2235. hurricane23
09:04 EDT le 26 juillet 2007
The trough is supposed to amplify into the weekend.
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2234. IKE
8:03 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: SevereStorm at 8:00 AM CDT on July 26, 2007.
Posted By: MrNiceville at 7:39 AM CDT on July 26, 2007.
Ike - that's not like you - come clean - no obtuse hints at something...


I can't see the GOM going 2 years in a row without a storm.

Florida can't afford another one...actually, the entire GOM can't.

The GOM had a storm last year


I should have said hurricane.
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2232. TropicalNonsense
1:01 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
"a Hugo Like System" ... lol

The Hurricane Season has Officially Begun!!!
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2231. weatherguy03
9:01 AM EDT on July 26, 2007
One thing we have been lucky with this early part of the season is that we havent had storms form along the Gulf Coast with this trough. Its been so strong that Upper Level winds have been unfavorable.
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2229. hurricane23
09:00 EDT le 26 juillet 2007
yea 03 looks like a wet weekened in miami with 70-80 of rain friday through almost sunday.
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2227. TropicalNonsense
12:59 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Right now the SW Gulf Blob Looks More Impressive
than Barry Did.
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2226. MrNiceville
12:57 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Great - so you're saying that the general pattern is conducive to drawing storms into the GOM? Wouldn't it depend on the location of the AB high?
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2225. 28feetabovesealevel
12:58 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Got a bet with a buddy,

Is the convection explosion in the GOM anything BUT a rain event?
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2223. weatherguy03
8:59 AM EDT on July 26, 2007
It is pretty amazing Adrian how this pattern has held for months. Looks like another round of Severe weather for North Florida this weekend. Feels like Spring again.
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2221. GetReal
12:56 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
I agree the W. GOM is exploding this morning with deep and expanding convection. The upper level conditions also this morning do not appear to be as hostile as the NHC alluded to this morning's Trop Outlook. There does appear to be an UL high over this BLOB.
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2220. IKE
7:59 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
What a blowup of convection in the western/central GOM.
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2219. hurricane23
08:59 EDT le 26 juillet 2007
The 06Z has a Hugo like system making landfall in the carolinas....The chances of this actually takeing place are very low as this is very long range but an important thing to take from the GFS is that the time of the year is fast approaching.

hugo
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2218. guygee
12:54 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: MrNiceville at 12:54 PM GMT on July 26, 2007.
guygee;

So if we PREFIX comments with LOL, then it's acceptable, civil behavior, but if we suffix them, it's troll-ish. Man - too many rules for me - I can't even remember when e comes before i half the time... (I would insert LOL, but I'm afraid I'd grow a wart on my nose...)


My opinion, MrNiceville, is if you quote me and respond with LOL, without offering any countering evidence or reasoning, then yes, you are a troll. It is not my rule, it is a fallacious argument under the Rules of Informal Logic. It is an Ad Hominem attack. Look it up if you don't know what that means.
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2216. fireflymom
12:49 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
There was a glorious full double rainbow just SW of Houston this a.m. A small reward before we oversaturate again.
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2215. TropicalNonsense
12:54 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Very Very Interesting loop. watch the explosion of Very Deep convection in just the last hour.
Link
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2214. MrNiceville
12:50 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
guygee;

So if we PREFIX comments with LOL, then it's acceptable, civil behavior, but if we suffix them, it's troll-ish. Man - too many rules for me - I can't even remember when e comes before i half the time... (I would insert LOL, but I'm afraid I'd grow a wart on my nose...)
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2213. IKE
7:52 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
The problem with consistent troughs in the east...what if a storm is in the western Caribbean when one comes down...it'll head into the GOM with this pattern.
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2212. IKE
7:49 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: MrNiceville at 7:48 AM CDT on July 26, 2007.
Posted By: IKE at 12:42 PM GMT on July 26, 2007.
I can't see the GOM going 2 years in a row without a storm.

I can, but it's only in my dreams. I still think that everyone lied to me in the panhandle when they told me in '94 that this area went without a major landfall for the previous 60+ years...


When I was a kid I lived in a beach cottage in south Walton county. My grand folks owned what is now Seascape. This was in the 70's...I don't remember hardly any storms coming around. Eloise and maybe a TS or 2 and that's about it.
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2211. guygee
12:49 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Morning all, just checking in, got some chores to do around the homestead today and I promised myself I wouldn't blog away my day like yesterday.

Regarding the West GOM disturbance noticed that NHC shaded things a little in the early morning TWO: "SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT OF THIS SYSTEM IS NOT EXPECTED DUE TO UNFAVORABLE UPPER-LEVEL WINDS."

Yesterday I thought that the GOM blob would either get mostly sheared eastward or become vertically decoupled, but after fizzling late last night moderate-strong convection is developing more due north of its position yesterday. Add to that the upper-level divergence east of the small ULL that formed yesterday near the Big Bend area of TX, and the evident slow filling of the Great Lakes ULL, and that may be real trouble for rain-soaked TX. Hopefully most of the moisture does get sheared E-NE before approaching TX and LA.

A lot of discussion on what constitutes a troll on this blog. I don't think there is anything wrong with holding a strong opinion, just as long as you can back it up with some reasoning and data. If somebody comes up with a "better" reasoning or data a reasonable person will admit their error and move on. Most of us here are not really qualified to hold "strong opinions" anyways, but it can make the blog interesting. For people that hold strong and unreasonable opinions in the face of contradicting evidence best to ignore them. For me, true trollish behavior is the use of personal attacks and ad hominem arguments. A common tactic on this blog is to quote somebody and append it with a "LOL". Weak and trollish behavior, as such a response is a personal attack. Better to answer with reason and facts or ignore.

Just my two pennies.

I suspect Dr. Master's will post a new blog soon today, as this one is getting huge!

Cheers!


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2209. MrNiceville
12:42 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: IKE at 12:42 PM GMT on July 26, 2007.
I can't see the GOM going 2 years in a row without a storm.


I can, but it's only in my dreams. I still think that everyone lied to me in the panhandle when they told me in '94 that this area went without a major landfall for the previous 60+ years...

I just paid my storage unit rental through December yesterday. Forgot to do it last month and think I might need access to my "shutters" that I built in 97 again this season (no room in the garage to store them - I have kids). Was kinda nice not to have to pull them out last year...
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2208. GetReal
12:39 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
The new concentrated area of convection in the W. central GOM appears to be just underneath an UL high. The unfavorable windshear is now to the west and north of this area. I see an expanding area of deep convection, and the tops NOT being blown off as they were yesterday. IMO.
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2206. IKE
7:42 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: hurricane23 at 7:41 AM CDT on July 26, 2007.
No signs of the pattern changeing in the near future...Trof looks to be in place.


Which brings above normal rain to the lower SE...then, by the end of next week the GFS keeps hinting at a possible low developing on that trough...possibly in the NE GOM...then shoots it NE.
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2205. IKE
7:40 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: MrNiceville at 7:39 AM CDT on July 26, 2007.
Ike - that's not like you - come clean - no obtuse hints at something...


I can't see the GOM going 2 years in a row without a storm.

Florida can't afford another one...actually, the entire GOM can't.
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2204. TropicalNonsense
12:38 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Very True IKE. One "Andrew" or "Ivan" and all The
Past Quietness Goes out The Window Quick.

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2203. hurricane23
8:40 AM EDT on July 26, 2007
No signs of the pattern changeing in the near future...Trough looks to be in place of the eastcoast of the united states.

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL
417 AM EDT THU JUL 26 2007

.THE TROUGH AXIS WILL BECOME MORE
AMPLIFIED ALONG THE EAST COAST OF THE U.S. ON FRIDAY. WEAK AND
ERRATIC STEERING FLOW ON FRIDAY WILL ONCE AGAIN FAVOR THE
INTERIOR FOR AFTERNOON CONVECTION...AND WILL MAINTAIN HIGHEST POPS
IN THIS REGION WITH COVERAGE EXPECTED TO BE A BIT MORE WIDESPREAD
THAN IN PREVIOUS DAYS. AS THE TROUGH DIGS FURTHER TO THE SOUTH BY
FRIDAY NIGHT...NORTHWEST FLOW ALOFT MAY ALLOW SHOWERS AND STORMS
TO CONTINUE WELL INTO THE NIGHT...AND WILL INCREASE NOCTURNAL
PERIOD POPS TO REFLECT THIS.

THE PREVIOUSLY MENTIONED MID-LEVEL TROUGH WILL CONTINUE TO BECOME
MORE ESTABLISHED ACROSS THE FLORIDA PENINSULA BY SATURDAY...WITH AN
EVEN HIGHER COVERAGE OF THUNDERSTORMS EXPECTED OVER THE WEEKEND.
LOW-LEVEL FLOW WILL VEER TO THE SOUTHWEST IN RESPONSE TO THE
FALLING HEIGHTS ALOFT...WITH A GREATER COVERAGE OF STORMS EXPECTED
ALONG THE ATLANTIC COAST ON SATURDAY AND SUNDAY. MEDIUM RANGE
GUIDANCE FROM THE GFS/ECMWF SUGGESTS THAT THE TROUGH AXIS WILL
LINGER ACROSS THE SOUTHEASTERN U.S. THROUGH THE FIRST HALF OF NEXT
WEEK...AS A SUBTROPICAL RIDGE ATTEMPTS TO REDEVELOP OVER SOUTH
FLORIDA. WITH THIS IN MIND...WILL KEEP POPS AND TEMPS NEAR
CLIMATOLOGICAL NORMAL VALUES IN THE EXTENDED PORTION OF THE
FORECAST...WITH PREVAILING WESTERLY FLOW FAVORING THE INTERIOR AND
ATLANTIC COAST FOR AFTERNOON STORMS.
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2201. MrNiceville
12:38 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Ike - that's not like you - come clean - no obtuse hints at something...
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2200. MrNiceville
12:36 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Oh, heck - 15/16 days????

Forecasting that track is like trying to find my beer on the beach on the 4th of July - impossible to do!



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2199. IKE
7:36 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
I bet Dr. Masters has a new blog today, talking about the Texas moisture...and the increase in activity with the models.

Remember...it only takes 1. If there's 18 storms(like I predicted), or 10.
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2198. TropicalNonsense
12:35 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
yes JP a slow movement more to the east or even
northeast might buy it some addtional time to
blow up.
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2197. IKE
7:35 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
No...the Carolinas in 15 to 16 days...it'll keep changing....
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2195. MrNiceville
12:27 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 12:18 PM GMT on July 26, 2007.

we are in the diurnal phase in which convection is expected to increase to max, this is not unusual by any means


Wow - pretty much what I said about an hour ago. Validation - now I am someone (where's that new phonebook??)...

How far S does the GFS put the landfall? Far enough south to cross the peninsula into the GOM (hope not)...
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2193. TropicalNonsense
12:29 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
The 48 hour NAM moves the Blob to The NE.
with Possible Low Formation.

Not That I am Buying into This Just Yet
but some of the other models dont even
recognize this system.

blob


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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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