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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1191. Patrap
11:40 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
The satelitte is confined to orbital mechanics and its field of view.
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1190. DaytonaBeachWatcher
4:39 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
looking at the new GFS coming out, it looks like the ridge is building to the west some especially by day 9, which is all i can see so far.
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1189. ryang
12:38 PM AST on July 25, 2007
Possible LLC around 11.3N and 31.5W.
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 329 Comments: 12432
1188. Drakoen
4:32 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
amazingwxman i think it has to do with the curvature of the earth and the position of the QuickSat.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
1187. amazinwxman
4:29 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Question: is quicksat missing areas have to do with it being near needing replacement or even if it was new or fairly so would it still be missing areas? And I don't remember quicksat missing areas before or is this something that has started happening recently.
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1186. Drakoen
4:27 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Ryang the QuickSat missed the area.
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1185. ryang
12:25 PM AST on July 25, 2007
I just checked the visable loops, rotation indeed.

QuickSACT?
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1184. amazinwxman
4:20 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Thanks Drak appreciate the help.
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1183. ryang
12:22 PM AST on July 25, 2007
If there is an LLC trying to form, i would say 11N 31W.
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1182. Drakoen
4:24 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
the GFS is pretty latched on to the system. it shows it 144 hours out...
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1181. ryang
12:20 PM AST on July 25, 2007
By the way, Check my blog on the wave.
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1180. bluehaze27
4:20 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
If it forms into something it looks like it would be a threat around the middle of the 1st week of August.
Member Since: March 26, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 813
1179. Drakoen
4:20 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: ryang at 4:19 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.

The CATL wave has, slight rotation, increasing thunderstorms, no LLC yet

98L?


there maybe a LLC trying to form due to the formation of the clouds along with the outflow. 98L is a possiblity. the convection continues to increase.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
1178. ryang
12:18 PM AST on July 25, 2007
The CATL wave has, slight rotation, increasing thunderstorms, no LLC yet

98L?
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1177. Drakoen
4:18 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
amazinwxman CATL wave. 12N 30W.
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1176. Drakoen
4:17 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
gonna get very interesting as we have reliable models picking up on something
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1175. amazinwxman
4:12 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
decided to check and see for myself so are there any waves or areas of interest that look like they could form something soon or now? oh and what are their coordinates so I can plot them on my map?
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1174. bluehaze27
4:16 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
During Katrina, I only lost power for a few hours and during Wilma I was without power for 1 day. Again, underground lines.
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1173. ryang
12:15 PM AST on July 25, 2007
Now, we have to watch this wave very closely, i believe, Let's see what the NHC says at 2:00.
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1172. Drakoen
4:13 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
no. It very well may be the wave hurricane23 is talking about. I am now seeing a 1006mb low.
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1171. ryang
12:13 PM AST on July 25, 2007
Shear is 15- 20 knots, but that might change!!
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 329 Comments: 12432
1170. ryang
12:10 PM AST on July 25, 2007
Well, i thought the wave would have been closer to Africa?
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 329 Comments: 12432
1169. FormerFloridian
12:08 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: bluehaze27 at 12:08 PM EDT on July 25, 2007.
Former Floridian, try 3 months for Andrew. We didn't get power back until the middle of November, two months after I returned from the Air Force. Now THAT sucks.


yeah, but that was more than a cat 2:)

I went through Charley and lost power for almost a week. Not sure how anyone got thru 3 months without power.
1168. Drakoen
4:07 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
this might have been what the UKMET was picking up on in the previous run. I am looking at the GFS 12z now and its showing a 1007mb low.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
1167. bluehaze27
4:06 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Former Floridian, try 3 months for Andrew. We didn't get power back until the middle of November, two months after I returned from the Air Force. Now THAT sucks. Watching ones house get destroyed while in Korea and knowing that is what I have to go home to actually put me in a state of shock for a day wondering if my family and friends were all right. I actually called my friend in Homestead that night and got through. He had underground lines. Three days later I saw a story in the money section of USA Today quoting another friend regarding the loss of intagibles like photos. Protect your photos!!!!
Member Since: March 26, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 813
1165. Murko
4:03 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: quante at 3:56 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.
Here is a nice shot of Frances, with Ivan right behind. Man that sucked!


Eye of Francis went over my house on Eleuthera, Bahamas. Luckily I wasn't there at the time, but had paid deposit and signed contract to buy it. Frantic calls afterwards to check if it was still there. Just lost a few shingles.
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1164. StormJunkie
4:05 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Back to work y'all.

See everyone this afternoon. That wave should be entering the GHCC Atlantic field of view rather shortly. Half of it is already there.

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16519
1163. bluehaze27
4:04 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Well, for those that lived through Andrew, for the longest time, a wind over 20 mph freaked people out.
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1162. hurricane23
12:05 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
Here is a full explanation on how to use EUMETSAT imagery.
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1161. Drakoen
4:05 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
ryang weak to no SAL. strong SAL is what does the damage.
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1160. ryang
12:01 PM AST on July 25, 2007
SAL in that area as well, but still convection increasing.
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 329 Comments: 12432
1159. hurricane23
12:04 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
I always use images 4 and 5 and hit animate.
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1158. FormerFloridian
12:01 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: bluehaze27 at 12:00 PM EDT on July 25, 2007.
If the blow is a weak cat 2 or less, no problem. In fact it is kind awesome to experience. I didn't go through Andrew (I came home from the Air Force a month later for clean up and no power), but my family and friends did. The stories they had for me were just incredible. Water actually seeping THROUGH glass, a whole floor ripped off of my friends house with them in it (they were on the bottom floor), the popping of the ears and the high pitched whine and scream of the wind. What I saw and had to clean up afterwards was mindboggling. Trees were blown down in one direction and then when the wind changed, wrapped around another tree. Busses flipped over and carried down the street but a coke can still standing on my kithcen counter even though everything around it was destroyed. Everything was surreal and it took about 3 years before we were completely over the storm.



It's all relative. I went thru Hurricane Isabel in 2003 (Cat 2) while living in Va Beach and I was without power for 3 days. That sucked.
1157. StormJunkie
4:01 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
bh, that was very similar to the situation here after Hugo. Except I was here for the storm. As you said, surreal. 3yr clean up sounds pretty accurate to. It was more like 7 to 8 before it was harder to pick out what had happened though.
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1156. Drakoen
4:02 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
rainfall fall rates look to be near 15mm.
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1155. hurricane23
12:00 PM EDT on July 25, 2007
MET-9 - Multi-Sensor Precipitation Estimate updates every 15 minutes
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13786
1154. StormJunkie
4:00 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
jp, yesterday when I checked there was a little shear to the S, but over all it seemed to be in a decent environment.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16519
1153. Drakoen
4:00 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
nice shot hurricane23.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30489
1152. bluehaze27
3:53 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
If the blow is a weak cat 2 or less, no problem. In fact it is kind awesome to experience. I didn't go through Andrew (I came home from the Air Force a month later for clean up and no power), but my family and friends did. The stories they had for me were just incredible. Water actually seeping THROUGH glass, a whole floor ripped off of my friends house with them in it (they were on the bottom floor), the popping of the ears and the high pitched whine and scream of the wind. What I saw and had to clean up afterwards was mindboggling. Trees were blown down in one direction and then when the wind changed, wrapped around another tree. Busses flipped over and carried down the street but a coke can still standing on my kithcen counter even though everything around it was destroyed. Everything was surreal and it took about 3 years before we were completely over the storm.
Member Since: March 26, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 813
1151. StormJunkie
4:00 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Nice view 23, how often do you get updates with that?
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16519
1150. guygee
4:00 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: Drakoen at 3:50 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.
"...DISCUSSION...
[...]LARGE UPPER HIGH IN THE W CARIBBEAN DOMINATES THE REMAINDER OF THE GULF AND IS ENHANCING THE SCATTERED SHOWERS/THUNDERSTORMS S OF 25N INTO THE BAY OF CAMPECHE BETWEEN 90W-96W.
"

That seems about right...I would specify NW Caribbean. Main point being that the influence of the high extends over the BOC, steering most of the convection towards the N out of the BOC, as is evidently taking place.
Member Since: September 16, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 3167
1149. 900MB
3:59 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Tropicalman-
I'd give it a 15-20% chance. I think we'll all know for sure over the next 6-12 hours.
It it did develope, it looks to go more or less due North with maybe a hook east.
Member Since: June 11, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 684
1147. FormerFloridian
3:59 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
looks like the blobs in the BOC are getting sheared apart.
1146. hurricane23
3:58 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
We'll to have to wait to see if convection persists.But overall convection has indeed been on the increase with the wave.

Here is an excellent view of the wave

wave
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1144. Drakoen
3:57 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
I never realize Ivans Latitude when it formed interesting...
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1143. quante
3:56 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Here is a nice shot of Frances, with Ivan right behind. Man that sucked!Link
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 329
1142. CosmicEvents
3:55 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Inyo......I hadn't noticed any wishcasting in here.......and I also wouldn't be so quick to rule out that chicken in Shanghai earthquake theory.
Member Since: August 3, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 5581
1141. FormerFloridian
3:53 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: hurricane23 at 11:42 AM EDT on July 25, 2007.
Thunderstorm activity with the wave in the central atlantic has been on the increase over the past couple of hours as it moves westward towards the islands.

Nothing to get worried about just something to keep an eye on.


I'd be more worried about this than the ones in the BOC. The ones in the BOC will bring a lot of rain to Texas but nothing more.

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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.