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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1041. hcubed
5:49 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
"Posted By: WiSHcAsTeR392 at 11:38 PM CDT on July 24, 2007.

Yes, I bet 5 grand on it. 16+ storms needed to win me the money, less needed for me to lose my money."


I, for one, pray for less. Then maybe you'll think twice before betting on nature. Bet on a sure thing - the Mavs losing it all...
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1040. philliesrock
10:24 AM EDT on July 25, 2007
Just a little joke. Thought you might need it. LOL
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1039. ryang
10:22 AM AST on July 25, 2007
hey phillies can I have some of what you are smoking lmao

LOLOLOLOL
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 329 Comments: 12397
1038. Patrap
9:22 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
Gulf and Tropics (Updated every ~1/2 hour)
Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125753
1037. Patrap
9:22 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
GOES-12 Channel 3 (WV)
Link
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1036. guygee
2:21 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
IKE - LOL!
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1034. IKE
9:19 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
"I wonder if I went back to June/early July on this blog, would I find some people tracking waves off of Africa?"......

Yes...4,000 miles from the USA...2,500 miles from the islands!
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1033. philliesrock
10:15 AM EDT on July 25, 2007
Too bad the name is Chantal instead of Chris this year. Why? There's a hot new rapper right now named Hurricane Chris - and he has a hit single - A Bay Bay - right now. If you follow rap, you know what I'm talking about. LOL.

Just think about it: Hurricane Chris - A Bay Bay. That could mean a hurricane named Chris could enter a bay. Er, a bay bay. LOL.

This is a coincidence - Tropical Storm Chris formed at almost this time last year. If this year's name was Chris, a song by Hurricane Chris would be popular just as Hurricane Chris was forming in the Atlantic.

You get it? If not, don't ask.
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1031. borlando
2:18 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
what is to prevent trofs from moving through FL in late september like those that have been as of late? fronts have been slipping through CFL longer and longer the last decade IMO.
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1030. IKE
9:18 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: SWFLgazer at 9:16 AM CDT on July 25, 2007.
I've lived here for 10 years. I think that when we see something building we all say; Wow! Look at that. We we see that it's coming at us, it changes to; Oh Crap! Look at that.

I've experienced exciting years and I've experienced boring years. Trust me. Boring is better.


Boring IS better. Hope it continues...only 128 days left...fingers crossed.
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1029. hurricane23
10:16 AM EDT on July 25, 2007
JP sent you the link to your mail.
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1028. guygee
2:03 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 2:02 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.
it isnt a quiet season its a normal one so far, there is a difference

Pretty much the truth JP. I remember how amazed everyone was when 1996 Bertha developed as a Cape Verde system in early July. She broke all the records at the time for the earliest Cape Verde TD/TS/Major Hurricane. But the Cape Verde season is recognized to generally start sometime in early August, and the average hurricane season has about only two Cape Verde-type hurricanes.

I wonder if I went back to June/early July on this blog, would I find some people tracking waves off of Africa?
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1026. IKE
9:15 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: fsumet at 9:15 AM CDT on July 25, 2007.
last year being "ahead" means absolutely nothing. This season will not end in September like last year.


Don't those 2 sentences contradict each other?

On the one-hand last year vs. this year means absolutely nothing...or the other, this season will not end in September, like last year did.

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1025. SWFLgazer
2:15 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
I've lived here for 10 years. I think that when we see something building we all say; Wow! Look at that. We we see that it's coming at us, it changes to; Oh Shoot! Look at that.

I've experienced exciting years and I've experienced boring years. Trust me. Boring is better.
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1024. Drakoen
2:14 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: spiceymonster at 2:14 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.

Drakoen, Can you PLEASE put the reason why you are posting images?


Sry no one asked. I posted that to show the vorticity at the 850 mb level in the BOC.
I still think the upper level winds are not favorable for development...
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1023. fsumet
10:14 AM EDT on July 25, 2007
last year being "ahead" means absolutely nothing. This season will not end in September like last year.
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1022. spiceymonster
2:01 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Drakoen, Can you PLEASE put the reason why you are posting images?
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1021. IKE
9:12 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: ryang at 8:50 AM CDT on July 25, 2007.
By the way, 2006 will be ahead of this year soon, as chris formed last year on the 31st of this month.


It already is. There was an unnamed TS on the 17th-18th of July.

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1019. hurricane23
10:03 EDT le 25 juillet 2007
JP go seat bro you will not believe the action and just the awsome special affects in that movie.

Here under yahoo you can watch up to 8 minutes of the movie.Take a look and let me know.

Click on theatrical Trailer
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1018. bobbistorm
2:00 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Very interesting article but it's still mostly speculation. Thanks for posting it during this slow time when there isn't much to discuss.

Takes a long time to get an article into print and they are often behind the curve by the time it's published.

Would like to know Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth's explanation of why this season has been so slow in areas where we would normally see at least minimal development (GOM/BOC/Carib).

18 months ago this was a timely discussion and though it will still sell lots of magazines it doesn't address the issue of how in the last days of July we can't get anything spinning to talk about on this Wednesday morning.

Thanks.
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1014. Patrap
9:01 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
GOES WV Loop of Tropical Basin


Link
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1012. IKE
8:57 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
Some have a biased toward a quiet season in the Atlantic on here...most have a biased toward an active one.

I agree with this statement....

"Posted by: LRandyB, 12:05 PM CDT on July 22, 2007
We're nearly two months into the Atlantic Hurricane Season and so far, it's been a quiet one. The two systems that have developed were not truly tropical in nature and advisories on those were started, I think, mainly because of their proximity to land and the potential that they might become something serious. While neither ever did become a serious threat, they did help to drop some needed rain in some pretty dry areas.".......

Things can change...facts are....so far, it's been a quiet season.
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1011. DaytonaBeachWatcher
1:55 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: hurricane23 at 9:46 AM EDT on July 25, 2007.
Posted By: weatherboykris at 09:43 EDT le 25 juillet 2007. (hide)
I think what we can all agree on is that tracking and studying them is fun.Nothing gets adrenaline pumping more than tracking a hurricane heading your way.

No doupt on the adrenaline but its just that some here on WU sound like they want hurricanes and in all honestly i think we have had enough devastation the past couple of years.


Soooo True, the thing that isn't true...that wanting something to happen makes it so. People can want and wish, wont do them any good. Canes will be here this year and that or they wont. Nice to talk about what we all think tho, makes the day pass quicker...:-)
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1010. Drakoen
1:56 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 29714
1008. hurricane23
09:50 EDT le 25 juillet 2007
Went to the movies with the wife yesterday and saw Die Hard and all can say is what an awsome movie i highly recommend everyone to go see it.
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1007. Patrap
8:54 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
Google the site info,,they sure to have that info DudetheMAth
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125753
1006. FormerFloridian
9:52 AM EDT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: hurricane23 at 9:46 AM EDT on July 25, 2007.
Posted By: weatherboykris at 09:43 EDT le 25 juillet 2007. (hide)
I think what we can all agree on is that tracking and studying them is fun.Nothing gets adrenaline pumping more than tracking a hurricane heading your way.

No doupt on the adrenaline but its just that some here on WU sound like they want hurricanes and in all honestly i think we have had enough devastation the past couple of years.


great post hurricane23. could not agree more.
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1005. DudeTheMath
1:52 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
I've got a question relating to mgreen91's post 'way at the top, regarding Sheets & Williams's "Hurricane Watch". How do they develop those hurricane strike probabilities? If not historically, then what *are* the actual numbers for the last 100 years? Where the discrepancy is statistically significant, how do they explain it?
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1004. Patrap
8:52 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
It just gets too crowded.Although some new admin controls are coming online when the new site look kicks in..
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1002. ryang
9:50 AM AST on July 25, 2007
I think we'll have to go to indivisual blogs, trolls will be on the rise...LOL
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1001. guygee
1:48 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: weatherboykris at 1:27 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.
When refrencing the CPC forecasts,I prefer to look at their maps;which basically agree with Dr. Masters,showing near to above normal heights,and thus more of a ridge than trough.

WBKris - Good point on looking at the maps, but the 8-10 day forecast map clearly shows the West CONUS high-East CONUS trough pattern, and the 8-14 day forecast shows some lifting out of the East CONUS mean trough, but still a weak mean East Coast trough. Pretty much in line with the exact quote I gave from their forecast. Are you trying to imply that the CPC written forecast contradicts their graphical forecast?

Also,guygee the CPC does forecast relative times of TC activity,calling for a higher chance in the Central Atlantic the next two weeks.

Not the forecast I cited, it is for the CONUS and Alaska only. Besides, simple climatology gives the same answer for the probability of TC activity. Is CPC calling for an anomalously high chance of TC activity?
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999. ryang
9:49 AM AST on July 25, 2007
By the way, 2006 will be ahead of this year soon, as chris formed last year on the 31st of this month.
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 329 Comments: 12397
998. Patrap
8:48 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
When the frays start,,,the place Ill be is my lil blog...that way one can control the chaos. The main is a zoo during an actual threat.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125753
997. Drakoen
1:48 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: ryang at 1:46 PM GMT on July 25, 2007.

When the real stuff start's... This blog is gonna blow(Literally).


LOL yea...
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996. seminolesfan
1:41 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
graph of station 42055
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995. Drakoen
1:46 PM GMT on July 25, 2007
Hurricane23 i have already been through several hurricanes, I don't have a reason to want to go through any more...
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994. Patrap
8:47 AM CDT on July 25, 2007
WAVCIS 60 Hour GOM SSt model and more Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 415 Comments: 125753
992. ryang
9:45 AM AST on July 25, 2007
When the real stuff start's... This blog is gonna blow(Literally).
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 329 Comments: 12397
991. hurricane23
09:43 EDT le 25 juillet 2007
Posted By: weatherboykris at 09:43 EDT le 25 juillet 2007. (hide)
I think what we can all agree on is that tracking and studying them is fun.Nothing gets adrenaline pumping more than tracking a hurricane heading your way.

No doupt on the adrenaline but its just that some here on WU sound like they want hurricanes and in all honestly i think we have had enough devastation the past couple of years.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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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.