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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1291. JFLORIDA
5:44 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Ok good -

Tropicnerd13 - Images are fine as long as they are not too big. In season things move fast and it may seem like people are ignoring you when they really are just focused on trying to make sense of the stuff you and others post.
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1290. DaytonaBeachWatcher
5:44 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
not sure i know what u mean brat, both show both as far as i am concerned
.... which ones do u have?
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1289. Tropicnerd13
5:39 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
well at least one of yall isnt ignoring me. i didnt realize that until AFTER i posted all those images. sorry. does that blob in catl we are watching have circulation or do the clouds just happen to look like that?
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1288. weatherbrat
5:41 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Where can I find, or can someone post a link, of the forecast models? I'm talking about the models that would show the tracking of the storms, not the models that show predictions of storm development, I have those.

Thank you!
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1286. weatherboykris
5:40 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
tropicnerd,stop being a whiny little brat everytime you come in here.No one's ignoring you,all you post is satellite images.There's no real responses you can make to them.No one's ignoring you,we just,well,have nothing to say to you.
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1285. DaytonaBeachWatcher
5:40 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
OMG nobody is ignoring you, did u ask a question related to the weather? i missed it sorry
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1284. texascanecaster1
5:40 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
No jf i live in houston. Now the ridge is not playing a part in the gom thunderstorm an upper level high over the yucatan is. I will be posting a blog on this stuff later this afternoon. until then i will be out from wundergorund i got work to do. Also tropic stay on people do care what you ahve to say i do espically. bye all!
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1283. Tropicnerd13
5:35 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
well im gonna leave sinse none of yall care about what i have to say. are yall just like ignoring me or something?
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1282. JFLORIDA
5:37 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
texascanecaster1

yea there is enhancement via the ridge - you in Dallas??
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1281. al3112
5:36 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Hey did anyone read the drudge report they are forecasting one less storm to form
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1280. texascanecaster1
5:36 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
by the way tropicanerd you didn't need to post that many image. The new atlantic wide view image shows everything except africa.
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1279. franck
5:36 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Just kidding. How ya'll doing over there?
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1278. texascanecaster1
5:35 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
The troguh that accuweather and that i pointed out int bay of campeche yesterday is producing heavy convection and is being enahcned by the upper level high. It is possible for the southeren more active end of the trouhg to seed a surface low and become a depression.
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1277. Chicklit
5:34 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
04-05esque... That's a good one!
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1276. franck
5:32 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
PR..hey dude, that's a visible loop. Blowin' up though, huh. Bet the shear will moderate it.
But you do have a trolling motor on your FEMA trailer don't you?
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1274. Tropicnerd13
5:27 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
there is some circulation with a ull and a mll WAY north of trinadad and tobago. what are those called? extra tropical?
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1273. JFLORIDA
5:25 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Texas is in for unneeded rain it would seem there is a slight twist forming , really just moving offshore in the SW Gulf and the winds at the Buoy have shifted. The pressure is still high but that may change too soon.
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1272. Drakoen
5:31 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: ryang at 5:30 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.

LOL... Drak i mistyped on my blog...


lol ok.
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1271. weathers4me
5:30 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Is the BH migrating Westward? If so I think we may be seeing a repeat of 04-05. Thoughts?
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1270. ryang
1:29 PM AST on July 25, 2007
LOL... Drak i mistyped on my blog...
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1269. Tropicnerd13
5:23 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
hey why is everyone ignoring me? go to this noaa link and see all the pics in one.
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1268. Patrap
12:25 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
GOES IR Loop of Gulf of Mexico Link
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1267. Drakoen
5:24 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
the suspected area are of low presure is near 12N. the system can feed of the moisture in the ITCZ if it is out of it.
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1266. CaicosRetiredSailor
1:23 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
TJ
BOC = Bay of Campeche?

YES
CRS
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1265. amazinwxman
5:22 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
if that wave on the map is the one talked about then the wave is along the ITCZ not north of it.
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1264. Tropicnerd13
5:20 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
wxman or what ever your name is, are you watching twc or the local station? if you are watching twc, dont listen to it. listen to your local weather persons. they at least know to talk about the tropics instead of cruises. i bet twc is only saying that so they can advertise for cruises.
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1263. Drakoen
5:19 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: amazinwxman at 5:19 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.

it was just said on tv that the CATL wave we're talking about here is just part of the ITCZ and nothing more and it won't form or do anything since it won't be breaking away from the ITCZ is this true?


lol. look where the ITCZ is... South of the blob.

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1262. Tropicnerd13
5:18 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
what's that thing in the gulf? rain for texas or mexico? nvmnd. that wave we are watching looks like a great td. why isnt it categorized yet? no flights able to reach it i guess.
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1261. TexJonnie
12:18 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
BOC = Bay of Campeche? (newb here, sorry...)

TJ
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1260. amazinwxman
5:16 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
it was just said on tv that the CATL wave we're talking about here is just part of the ITCZ and nothing more and it won't form or do anything since it won't be breaking away from the ITCZ is this true?
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1259. Tropicnerd13
5:15 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
here's another pic. this is of african waves. looks like a big one coming off soon.
afr
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1257. Drakoen
5:17 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
definately something to watch over the next few days.
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1256. TexJonnie
12:14 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
Afternoon, All. Looks like there's something to watch now!? Anything for Texas (Houston's way)?
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1255. Tropicnerd13
5:13 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
hey wait are there two low pressure systems next to each other between south america and africa? CoOl! blob i mean low watching time.
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1254. wederwatcher555
5:13 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
wow the steering currents like 04-05esque
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1253. DaytonaBeachWatcher
5:12 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
yeah u could be right, it is hard to tell sometimes with these models. the GFS has had the CATL wave going backwards(east) for a few runs, which is weird. Anyway we all have a couple things to watch now and reason to wait impatiently for the next model runs, and the next, and the next...
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1252. 900MB
5:12 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Wonder when the good doctor will surface on the CATL disturbance?
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1251. Tropicnerd13
5:12 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
hi guys. how's our african low doing? im gonna stretch the blog with some pics so you can see all the disturbances.^_^
gom
cam
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1250. 900MB
5:07 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
98L is born! Or at least it will be by overnight. Here are the steering currents and shear: link
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1249. Drakoen
5:11 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
I think its the wave at 30W in the CATL. Look at the GFS and CMC.
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1248. ryang
1:10 PM AST on July 25, 2007
Drakoen in Barbados, look at the first island closest to the CMC output, moving West.
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1247. DaytonaBeachWatcher
5:10 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
actually ryang if i am not mistaken i think it is for the one after that just came off....
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1246. texascanecaster1
5:08 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
afternoon all. I am late today because i had some sever wireless inernet problems but they are fixed now and i am here. I see wee have two areas of interest one that will likley become a system soon so i will try and make another blog on those system later on. This blog will be focused more on the two most active areas than on everything.
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1245. ryang
1:07 PM AST on July 25, 2007
23... Are all these images for ther current CATL wave?
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1244. Drakoen
5:08 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
ryang where do you live?
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1243. Drakoen
5:08 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
yea JP the GFS and the CMC 12z runs are showing development. The GFS and UKMET have been the most consistent.
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1242. ryang
1:06 PM AST on July 25, 2007
WOW!! If the CMC is right, i might get hit!!
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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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