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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2190. IKE
7:18 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
The system in the GOM was never going to amount to much...no model had it deepening much other then the NAM..which only went down to 1008mb's with it. ...and we all know how the NAM is.

Like JP said...the NAM is good at showing moisture ...and where it might generate....beyond that, their not very good.

This is more of a flooding type rain event..something Texas doesn't need.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
2187. TropicalNonsense
12:15 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
You could make a fortune selling "BlobWatching"
Glasses on here ...lol
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2186. philliesrock
8:09 AM EDT on July 26, 2007
I'm starting to buy the solution of the GFS developing a tropical storm. It has shown it in 3 of the last 4 runs and it will probably show it some more.
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2185. MrNiceville
12:04 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
ROFL JP - and at work no less! They really keep you busy there, don't they?!?!

Ike - I think this is now not influenced by the wave - otherwise, it would have moved toward the TX/MX coast overnight. Now, it's at the mercy of the steering currents - winds at all levels are generally to the north (I'd say northerly, but I can't remember if that means from or to the north).

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2184. TropicalNonsense
12:14 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
yes but if you watch the last 2 IR frames
you see an explosion of convection in just
the last couple of hours. Kinda early in the day
to be seeing this. Still kinda interesting.
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2183. sullivanweather
12:12 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
lol...


I wish I had mine on...
along with a crystal ball...
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2181. sullivanweather
12:05 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
TropicalNonsense,

It's a trick on the eyes.

The wave is encountering 20kts of shear that are blowing the thunderstorm tops towards the central gulf. If the shear was easterly, or southeasterly it'd look like this thing is ready to hit Texas, which it is...
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2179. TropicalNonsense
12:03 PM GMT on July 26, 2007
Blob in SW Gulf is starting to Refire.
Will need Close Watching Today. Seems To Be
Moving a bit more Easterly or are my eyes Failing me?


BLOB
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2177. IKE
7:00 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: MrNiceville at 6:58 AM CDT on July 26, 2007.
LOL Ike - if two models agree, then it's a consensus - does that apply to humans as well?


I guess so...I see the wave on the NWS fronts on the GOM visible loop...it's almost on the Mexican/south Texas coast.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
2176. MrNiceville
11:59 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Wow - they increased the PWAT by almost .5 inch in 12 hours - pretty amazing...
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2175. MrNiceville
11:57 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
LOL Ike - if two models agree, then it's a consensus - does that apply to humans as well?
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2174. IKE
6:58 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
The shear in the eastern Atlantic is 20-30 knots.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
2173. sullivanweather
11:54 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CORPUS CHRISTI TX
442 AM CDT THU JUL 26 2007

.SHORT-TERM (TODAY THROUGH FRIDAY)...GFS AND NAM MODELS RETAIN
THEIR CONSISTENT BIASES OF LATE WITH RESPECT TO CONVECTIVE
FEEDBACK BOMBS ON THE GFS AND TOO STRONG OF A TROPICAL SURFACE
FEATURE MOVING OUT OF THE WESTERN GULF ON THE NAM. WILL CONTINUE
TO LEAN TOWARD THE UKMET SOLUTION. IT SHOWS A REASONABLE DEPICTION
OF A DOUBLE VORTICITY STRUCTURE NEAR THE MID LEVEL LOW SHOWN ON
WATER VAPOR IMAGERY. ONE VORTICITY MAX IS LIFTING SLOWLY NORTH
THRU THE HILL COUNTRY WHILE THE OTHER IS NEARLY STATIONARY NEAR
DEL RIO. SURFACE TROUGH AXIS REMAINS ALONG THE COAST WITH MSAS
SHOWING STRONG MOISTURE CONVERGENCE FROM NORTH OF CORPUS CHRISTI
INTO THE MID COAST REGION. TROPICAL WAVE IS TO THE SOUTHEAST OF
BROWNSVILLE AND THE UKMET SHOWS THIS FEATURE WILL MOVE NORTHWEST
INTO THE COASTAL BEND THIS EVENING. VERY MOIST AIRMASS WILL REMAIN
IN PLACE WITH PWAT VALUES OF 2.2 TO 2.4 INCHES EXPECTED.


Amazing.
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2170. IKE
6:53 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
And the NHC doesn't say...the western GOM on their latest update..........

"Shower and thunderstorm activity has become less organized in
association with a trough of low pressure over the central Gulf of
Mexico."

Convection now firing back up...shear around 20 knots....probably won't do much...plenty of rain.

How did the disturbance go from the western gulf to the central when it was moving NW???
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
2169. MrNiceville
11:48 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Yes - but bear in mind that things really don't normally get hopping until mid-August.

Don't get me wrong - this may still develop into a TS. However, I don't think it's going to get much further along than that. The shear is marginal (15 - 20 kts).

However, I do think that it's going NE, not N or NW. I'm not certain what posessed the TPC to say NW - winds at all levels are headed N in that area. We'll have to wait and see on that...
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2166. sullivanweather
11:50 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Timing is everything, JP

What's going on?
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2163. sullivanweather
11:40 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
I agree as well with the NE bias on the GFS.

I really think that Dr.Masters should devote another blog to the rain in Texas. It's been tropics tropics tropics lately. Either the updates or the NHC fiasco.

If there's anything that's coming out of this disturbance it's tons of more flooding rains for Texas, which is really one of the big weather headlines this summer and deserves a bit more mention, in my opinion.

Who knows, maybe Dr.Masters is going to mention it today, if he updates.
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2161. MrNiceville
11:42 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
J.

I wouldn't call it "healthy" - just refiring at this point. If it were "healthy" it would have developed the low level spin from last night into something more pronounced. As it is, it's just convection.

Sorry if I burst your bubble - there's really nothing there right now but a bunch of rain...
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2160. dsauder
11:41 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
It was refreshing to read your "come clean" on the hyper-cane issue, Dr. Masters. It is very discouraging when repected science magazines stoop to cheap sensationalism. There is enough of that nonsense to be found at the super market check-out counters.
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2158. SAINTHURRIFAN
11:34 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
agree leftovers the gfs always seems to have a ne bias i could give you a million examples of past systems its done this with. in long range that is. ivan katrina jeanne and frances are just a few i remember.
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2157. MrNiceville
11:34 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Ike/Pat - my "little buddy" was right on cue at 5:45 this morning, but decided she wanted to take her time with the morning routine...

Our "little buddy" looks to be refiring again. But, I can't say I'd agree with a general NW motion, based on relative motion of moisture and clouds in the western GOM.

Looks like nothing more than a rain event, if it makes it to the coast...
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2155. MrNiceville
11:16 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Morning all...

Watchingnva - convection started to refire around 0845 UTC this morning and appears to be in step with diurnal maxima - wait until later this morning to see if anything develops. Shear has relaxed since yesterday evening (that's relative - it's still 20kts+). The blob that exited the YP last night donated it's moisture overnight - that's what helped the convection this morning. But, there is ample water vapor in the area. In last night's discussion, I recall reading over 2.0" of precipitable water in the air at the higher levels...
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2154. sullivanweather
11:23 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
hurricane??

hurricane


GFS beginning to pick up on some tropical activity again.
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2152. sporteguy03
11:16 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
JP,
Hopefully the trofiness stays because it will keep all systems out to sea!
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2151. watchingnva
7:11 AM EDT on July 26, 2007
it seems everyone went to bed right as this little blob in the GOM is starting to blowup big time around the little spin....very interesting convection...will check back in later.
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2150. yippeekaiyea
11:00 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Who funds this blog and who pays Dr. Masters salary?
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2149. SAINTHURRIFAN
10:36 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
i agree jp what you said yesterday about the middle of aug is right on 1998 pattern
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2147. KoritheMan
4:05 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Oh, I see... Well, in any case, it's unlikely that 2007 will be 1982. Very unlikely.
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2146. RL3AO
4:03 AM CDT on July 26, 2007

I hope you aren't comparing 2007 to 1982...


I'm saying I wouldn't mind a season like 1982 not that this will be like 1982.
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2145. KoritheMan
3:47 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Heres to a season similar to the 1982 season!

I hope you aren't comparing 2007 to 1982...
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2144. JLPR
7:37 AM GMT on Julio 26, 2007
Well if there is someone here it seems that everything in the atlantic had disipated the only thing left is the hope of one of this areas reviving or the african wave that should come out tomorrow
good night
ZzZzZzZz
-_-
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2143. msphar
7:32 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
"ELSEWHERE...TROPICAL CYCLONE FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS." sweet
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2142. RL3AO
2:15 AM CDT on July 26, 2007
Heres to a season similar to the 1982 season!
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2141. NeverPanic
6:58 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Only claim to something close to a H is the Columbus Day storm back in the 60's. Still remember my dad try'n to take down the TV antenna from the roof.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbus_Day_Storm
Extratropical...but oh boy they can be just as bad....
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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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