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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691. KoritheMan
11:37 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
She's a trooper.....but another 19 days without power here will finish her off I fear.

Where does she live, if I may ask?
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
689. KoritheMan
11:35 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Screw numbers. One big storm is enough.

And people are annoying the crap out of me with this I hope this season turns out to be a dud! No, in fact, it WILL be a dud because only TWO STORMS have formed by July 24. It's a sign of inactivity.

It's also getting on my nerves people saying God doesn't exist or doesn't know what will happen. Just because someone doesn't accept something, doesn't mean it isn't true. Just because we don't want to accept reality, doesn't mean reality will not happen.

Hurricanes will happen to people (unfortunately, I might add... and I'm serious), but so will good things. Good comes out of everything. What I hate is that if a hurricane doesn't hit this year, people will get complacent and say this:

"See, I told you it wouldn't happen. We ain't gonna get no storm for 20 years."

That kinda crap gets on my nerves.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
688. Prgal
4:36 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
You bet your college money on storms?
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685. bluehaze27
4:34 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Hell, the season doesn't even start until August 1st, so I'd say the season is very typical.
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684. KoritheMan
11:35 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
God does exist, say whatever you want. You'll find out on Judgment Day, won't you?
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
682. KoritheMan
11:33 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Wishcaster, what happens happens, man. Only God knows what will happen with this stuff. We can predict and make good guesses, but we aren't perfect.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
680. Blink
4:30 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Agree with you RL. The number of storms doesn't make a season. It's that one Big Bad storm that makes it a bad season. 13,14,15 or whatever # of storms, it just doesn't mean anything.
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679. KoritheMan
11:31 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
I think people are starting to go crazy because we are falling behind 2006. But there will be so many storms come late August and September that I will be surprised if we don't hit 14 storms.

Exactly... people need to wake up. 2005 was an abnormal year that probably won't happen again for awhile, so realize that a normal season is this quiet usually. 2007 is not slow, nor will it be slow.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
678. moonlightcowboy
4:27 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
"The last thing I needed the first thing this morning"...lol, relaxing, Hip. Cocktails/water to midnight! Looking at my Katrina picture book with a note from my then 7 year old niece. She drew a picture of the storm in crayon. My house was "safety." God bless her interpretation. We didn't have power for a week ourselves. Her grandmother was very sick, and almost near death. We battled the roads and the trees and got her to a hospital in Meridian, MS. She stayed there for about two weeks before she could go home.

She, fortunately, got to spend nearly two more years with her loved ones. She passed about two months ago.

It was wonderful endearment!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29596
676. KoritheMan
11:31 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
I'd say 13-15 storms, COUNTING Andrea and Barry.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
674. KoritheMan
11:27 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
It is happening here and who will take care of the elderly here when they get slammed again and they have no insurance?

Hm... that is a good question. :(

But seriously, what can we do about storms? They are going to happen.... You make it sound like nothing will form because of insurance prices.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
672. bluehaze27
4:29 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Have a little levity (aside from my story). Humor beats stress all the time.
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671. RL3AO
11:27 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
I think people are starting to go crazy because we are falling behind 2006. But there will be so many storms come late August and September that I will be surprised if we don't hit 14 storms.
670. bluehaze27
4:25 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
The whole insurance industry is a scam!!! My parents, who live in East Perrine, had their citizens insurance sold to a third party company who then demanded $8000 up front. My parents are retired and can't afford such gouging. What it is is corporate gentrification. Only the very rich will be able to afford a home in South Florida. They don't have insurance going into the season. They went through Andrew and now the final blow is about to befall them. I suggest each person create their own hurricane fund. If South Florida on average gets a cat 3 every 9 years, then 9 times $8000 is $72,000. If one has shutters and a good tile roof, then that would most certainly cover any damage. Most damage during Andrew was a simple fact of not having shutters.
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668. cjnew
11:27 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
nicely done. ;)
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666. KoritheMan
11:24 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
THERE MUST BE AT LEAST 16 OR MY LIFE IS WRECKED!

...I hope you aren't serious.

People on here think that Andrea and Barry are the only 2 storms that will develop, though, which we know (no offense to anyone), that that probably won't occur. July is always quiet usually (with the exception of 2005 -- that has hypnotized people, and they need to wake up to a normal season's typical activity and realize 2007 isn't slow). August and September will probably bring at least 6-8 storms.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
664. bluehaze27
4:23 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Do we hear seventeen? Seventeen anyone?
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662. moonlightcowboy
4:21 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
I just looked at the latest sfc map, and I'm still thinking that we'll see a low develop off the SA coast. Look at Columbia, there's one now. May not though.

It'll be a race between that and a CATL wave that develops somewhere between 40w and 50w in MHO.

Haven't checked the models (someone post one, please), but earlier there was some agreement that something was going to develop off the African coast, best I can remember.
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29596
660. bluehaze27
4:17 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Here is something of interest I found on Reuters. By the way hello all late-nighters.



Forecaster cuts 2007 hurricane outlook
Tue Jul 24, 2007 8:56PM EDT
Email | Print | Digg | Reprints | Single Page [-] Text [+]

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FACTBOX: Forecasts for 2007 Atlantic hurricane season Featured Broker sponsored link
Power. Price. Service. No Compromises.NEW YORK (Reuters) -The 2007 hurricane season may be less severe than forecast due to cooler-than-expected water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic, private forecaster WSI Corp said on Tuesday.

The season will bring 14 named storms, of which six will become hurricanes and three will become major hurricanes, WSI said in its revised outlook. WSI had previously expected 15 named storms of which eight would become hurricanes and four would become major hurricanes.

"Because the ocean temperatures have not yet rebounded from the significant drop in late spring, we have decided to reduce our forecast numbers slightly," said Todd Crawford, a WSI seasonal forecaster.

The energy and insurance industries are keenly watching the 2007 storm season after the record damage caused by hurricanes two years ago.

During the 2005 season, hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast and temporarily knocked out a quarter of U.S. crude and fuel production, sending energy prices to then-record highs.

WSI's Crawford added that wind conditions due to the lack of an El Nino event were less conducive to formation of tropical storms.

Despite the downgraded forecast, WSI still expects the 2007 season to be more active than last year, and added that storm-weary parts of the Gulf Coast could still be hit.

"We feel the general threat to the western Gulf is reduced slightly, with a corresponding increase in the threat to the eastern Gulf and Florida," Crawford said.



Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.
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659. KoritheMan
11:20 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Hello everyone, are the models still forecasting development with the africa wave? and are there any other areas to be watched at this time? thanks for your updates people. yall are great!

I dunno about all that.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
658. KoritheMan
11:19 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Please answer my question...Which one is most likely to develop first?

I don't know, dude.. The mood here is dread tonight, so don't mention development. Something will develop during this season, that's a fact. We aren't going to end this season with just Andrea and Barry. No way.

Now again I reiterate I don't want landfalls to occur, just like to track storms. Storms are going to happen every year somewhere that is all there is to it. Praying and hoping is not a wrong thing to do; it's right, but it will still happen sometimes.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
656. moonlightcowboy
4:18 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Yes, Hip, I know!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29596
655. cjnew
11:16 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Wishcaster
write disturbance 1, 2, 3 on seperate pieces of paper...throw them in a hat and draw one. there's your answer.
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653. moonlightcowboy
4:12 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
D R E A D !!!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29596
652. RL3AO
11:11 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
How would we know? Chances are none will develop.
650. Chicklit
3:59 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Quite a video Hip Deep...One comment said, "Hurricane Ivan killed my parents!!!"
That's the reality of it. And we are fascinated with them...until it's over. Then it's a drag for a really long time. Our Charley Survivor still knows the horror of being in a house when the windows blew out and the roof came off...something you don't want to go through twice! That's what's so creepy for the Gulf Coast residents who went through Katrina. We've been talking all week about vulnerability, how many are still in trailers, how the barriers have been destroyed and how even more vulnerable they are now than before. There are no answers for this. Just hope that they don't get hit again. And that nobody has to take that kind of punch. Yet here we are, looking at the highs setting up, watching the Cape Verde season kick off...
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649. moonlightcowboy
4:06 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
The thought came to mind that..."I was sad because I had no shoes, until I saw the man with no feet."

...I pray with all my heart and soul, that we(and the islands, Mexico) are all spared that kind of devastation and heartbreak!

sorry, a little mauldin(a term I learned here)tonight!

...I'll get back to work...lol.
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29596
647. KoritheMan
11:07 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Wishcaster, I have no idea...
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
645. KoritheMan
11:05 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
I think everyone needs to realize it's only July, and not every season is going to have early season activity. We are going to see more storms this year, just give it time.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
644. KoritheMan
10:58 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
No more named storms this season.

LOL... Good luck with that.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 573 Comments: 20357
642. Blink
4:00 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Charley destroying a gas station to pieces. Link
Man was I lucky it didn't came here. My luck ran out when Wilma came rolling through Naples.
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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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