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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791. moonlightcowboy
5:19 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
...last couple of waves into the Caribbean have looked like they also had potential. Camille was a storm for the books, too!
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789. moonlightcowboy
5:14 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Hip, don't sweat it. Sometimes things are taken out of context and posted that way, too!

You're a great poster, stick with it! I got your backside! lol
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788. bluehaze27
4:58 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Here is a word of advice from someone that had to deal with the aftermath of Andrew.

1) protect ALL of your pictures and medals and heirlooms and anything of sentimental value by putting them in plasttic bags and then putting the bags in plastic waterproof bins and tape them shut. Plastic trash cans work fine. So many people lost all the things of REAL value that can't be replaced.

2) Do this with important documents as well.

3) If you can afford shutters, this is THE single most important thing you can do to avoid aftermaths like Andrew.

4) Be very leary of contractors. Most who come down to the Area are shysters who will try to scam one of their insurance money or give you inferior product so they can make money and buy up abondoned properties and use quality stuff in those houses. Never give all of the money up front. Always give them partial payments tied to deadlines and progress. Make sure they are licensed and insured and bonded. Ask to see that they pulled permits. If they don't, you can get into big trouble with code enforement and the county.

5) NEVER throw your boxes of just purchased (insurance money) stereo or tv or cumputer equipment in the piles of debris in the front of your house. Thieves abound and they WILL target you.

6) This may not appeal to every one, but if you stay in an affected area immediately after the storm and lasting for about a month or so, you WILL need a weapon (handgun and ammo).

7) During the curfew that is sure to follow, TAKE BACK ROADS to get around if you can. You will avoid the road blocks and police hassles.

8) Make sure you have a can opener....and if you party (those in the know know what I mean), make sure you stock up in advance.
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787. Tazmanian
10:07 PM PDT on July 24, 2007
good night all that troll will be out of her by time i get up
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785. Tazmanian
10:06 PM PDT on July 24, 2007
WHAT?
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784. moonlightcowboy
5:05 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Folly is for fools. Tune or not? Last chance, then I've got to get back to the tropics. One of the best bloggers is in the room, MichaelSTL. I hope he posts some models soon. So, don't tarry, please! Thanks.

TAZ, rest a few minutes, please! Thanks.
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783. amazinwxman
5:04 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
someone please give me the coordinates for the CATL wave that may develope thanks.
778. moonlightcowboy
5:03 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Stay focused, Wishcaster! Tune?
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773. TexJonnie
11:58 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Here's to wishing that we have an active season with no landfalling storms so we all can have something to talk about and learn from.

TJ
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772. moonlightcowboy
4:59 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Wishcaster, $5,000 won't solve problems. Trust me. But, this song will. The deal is you have to carry a little jukebox that I'm gonna tell you where to find. Then, you have to go some where quiet and listen to it. Okay? Fair enough? Will you promise to listen?
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764. moonlightcowboy
4:57 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Wishcaster, what about that tune? Care to hear it? I'm CERTAIN if you'll listen, you'll like it!
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763. Prgal
4:58 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
LOL, I totally agree :P
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761. JLPR
4:56 AM GMT on Julio 25, 2007
yup thats true men landfallings are bad i hate been without electricity
:D
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756. Prgal
4:53 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Yeah, I know what you mean. I just think there is nothing cool about the loss of life and property that comes with landfall. I think that this kid just see hurricanes as something fun. I am a tracker lol, but I respect the weather and its not a nice experince to have.
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755. JLPR
4:53 AM GMT on Julio 25, 2007
well wishcaster yes i would like to see 20 hurricanes form cause i love them but i would not like them to hit anywere for me they can stay at water
and everyone please relax and get back to the tropics :D
peace
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754. KoritheMan
11:53 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
I'm personally expecting a rather large reduction in all the numbers regarding this season when the Gray forecast is published next month. I think it is August 3 or 4.

I doubt that. No offense to you man, but this is what I mean by 2005 hypnotizing people. This season is still above average, and will likely stay above average throughout the season. August and September will make or break the season.
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753. Chicklit
4:51 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Okay, Enuf.
Bluehaze...I've often thought the same things myself...I'd feel much safer in my hurricane protected home than in my Jeep! I know they're built to last, but they don't come with shutters! Now I'm getting silly. See y'all later.
(I hope WishcasterBoy gets banned before long!)
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752. TexJonnie
11:50 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
When Andrew hit, I was living in New Orleans. I remember it hitting FL and thinking "Sorry it's them, glad it's not me..." then Andrew coming close to New Orleans and thinking "Oh, Crap... spoke too soon" It was the first time I ever experienced a tropical storm/hurricane and I was taking care of a pregnant lady and her elderly mom and her son. I was scared out of my wits... Now that I've been living in Houston for 12 years, holding my breath each season is normal. But to think that someone is actually praying for 16 storms to hit blows my mind... wishing for something to happen that could cause destruction and maybe even death...

TexJonnie
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751. bluehaze27
4:51 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Where are you going to go? Max Mayfield would be the first to tell you that most should stay unless they are threatened by floods. We had over 12 inces of rain during Wilma and never once did any water rise up around my place. Besides, one can have a severe flood event with a tropical storm as we had during Dennis in 1979 I believe. Three days of intense rain from a tropical storm. Most people on here think only cat 3's 4's and5's can do major damage, well I'm here to tell you that's a major misconception. I know exactly what hurricanes can do. I'm a weather observer at MIA. and I am well prepared.
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746. Tazmanian
9:51 PM PDT on July 24, 2007
troll


and WunderBlogAdmin and Aron nos about it now too i had ? for them in my blog so hoping they will see my blog and e mail me my ? and i did say some in my blog about the new troll and hoping they will see it too
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115453
745. KoritheMan
11:50 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
And I will tell you something, there is nothing "cool" about it.

I know. Suffering isn't cool. But I do like to study their structure, since each storm is different.
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744. angelbabiez123
4:53 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
TropicalMan... agreed... thank you
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743. Prgal
4:52 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
OH, and in my previous comment about experincing hurricanes I was refering to him...not anyone else.
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741. moonlightcowboy
4:52 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Hey, I've got a good tune for you then. Care to hear it? It's a good one, and if you listen, I'm sure you'll like it!
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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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