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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640. Chicklit
3:52 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
I know what you mean, Cowboy...I really fear for my lovely, seaside town if we get hit badly this year like we did in '04. That's when we lost most of what was left of our beach. Now the waves break up against the seawalls and at high tide, there's little to nothing left between the ocean and the condos. I campaigned for beach restoration for two years and was met with apathy from just about everyone, including the condo managers, city government and beachside merchants. The state DEP cannot believe the apathy here. The only upside of building condemnations would be that their rebuilding would bring money into the area that has been dessimated by a shortfall in tourists and a slumping real estate market.
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638. Chicklit
3:45 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
One of my closets is adjacent to a load bearing wall and is reinforced with extra plywood...It's not a bad idea to have an area like that to huddle in when all hell breaks loose! Last time we had a tornado blow through, I sat in my closet with a motorcycle helmet on!
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637. moonlightcowboy
3:42 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
You know Hip, makes me think that we all have a certain amount of apathy to folks when a storm hits another area.

I was going through divorce and decided I needed some time at the beach to get away (after Ivan). It was unbelievable. Went down the road there towards the Florabama, amount of sand left over the highway there was unreal. I also remember driving through some neighborhoods just to see some of the damage and the progress...pulled into a cove (cauldedscack-can't spell it) and looking at a home that had been gutted, nothing left but a simblance of a roof. Then, when I took a bigger look around, all I saw was slabs! Then, near my car I saw the leftovers of a couple cases of Bud--thinking that these folks just sat there and looked at loss...wondering what they did, and were gonna do. Made my heart break and I knew my problems weren't serious at all.

Still, I think that kind of apathy exists, because while NOLA had it bad for sure (still does); but, MS's coast was totally obliterated. TOTALLY! Yet, the country and our state's leadership and our people came together, to make the very best of an awful situation. And, believe it...ALL are still trying to put the pieces back together.

AND, I was talking to someone today, that had property effected by Ivan. And today, they are still trying to put their lives back together, too. These things are horrible, HORRIBLE and it effects so many people, in so many different ways.

Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
635. Blink
3:44 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Wouldn't it be nice not to have any storms? lol. Ok back to reality. August and September is still on its way and that's the peek of hurricane season.
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634. Chicklit
3:40 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Yeah, there's a lot you can do to retrofit a home for storm safety. Sealing doors and windows is the biggest thing, though. The thing is, you have to do it ahead of time. The aluminum shutters are notoriously on backorder this time of year, although maybe supply has kept up better with demand since I was in the business. It's definitely worth checking into...If you want to do it yourself, then you just have to measure all of your openings and have everything cut to fit...and that takes time. Unfortunately, many people don't want to think about stuff like this until the storm is on its way! I hope I don't have a false sense of security. Since I have four cats and a dog and work out of my house, I am very reluctant to leave...no matter what!
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632. sullivanweather
3:37 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Chicklit,

It's a shame that a storm as strong as Andrew came rolling in to expose the shotty construction of the homes that were built in Florida during the massive explosion of population from the 50's onward.
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631. moonlightcowboy
3:36 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
"Storm mitigation"--now there's a term. Understand, Chic, good for you all! Good advice, too! Thanks. Anyone near a coastline needs that kind of advice and more! KUDOS!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
630. sullivanweather
3:34 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
The bad thing about Charley, and something that all hurricane forecasters fear, is that the storm moved parallel to the coast.

That increases the margin for error dramatically.
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629. Chicklit
3:28 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Charley, You make a good point about the sheet metal. I have what's called "galvalume" and they are attached to the house to screws that are jutting from about a 2 inch piece of metal that's fixed around the window and sliding glass door openings. I attach them with wing nuts. They're really light, stack easily, and afford great protection.
The big problem is when the winds are able to breach an opening, get into the house apply pressure, and that's what lifts the roof off. If you can seal everything off, then you have a chance of hanging onto your roof. Also, roofs should be hurricane clipped where the rafters meet the sill (top of walls).
I know all of this because my ex-husband and I started a storm mitigation company after Andrew, and we'd retrofit houses for hurricane safety. (I signed over my share to him in the divorce.)
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628. moonlightcowboy
3:32 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
...just got a feeling we're gonna see a storm form in the CATL like this(but starting out around between 40w and 50w), and with a more westward trek through the Carib and the GOM.
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
626. moonlightcowboy
3:24 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Hip, I think we're okay inside 48 hrs, but if that kind of pattern holds up (course I could be missing something) it makes me think Texas is the target, or Mexico. Depends on steering currents and the strength of the storm I think.
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625. charley04survivor
3:21 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
It seems like I should have used the sheet metal to cover my windows. My neighbors that used it didn't suffer as much damage as those of us who used plywood.
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623. moonlightcowboy
3:19 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Charleysurvivor...that's a helluva story!

...sure hope it makes folks pay attention!
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622. moonlightcowboy
3:17 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Franck, we'll wait for some snow melts, thank you. Sure, a light TS might be okay; but, we DON'T want anything else for sure!!!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
621. franck
3:13 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Tropical storms are essential to the southeast because they bring a boatload of moisture to recharge creeks, rivers, lakes, etc.
If you do not live here, you would not believe how fast and how much water resource levels have dropped since the storms stopped at the end of the '05 season.
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620. charley04survivor
3:12 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: StormW at 12:22 AM GMT on July 25, 2007.

charley04survivor,
Obviously as your handle states...just curious, where were you and how bad did you get hit?
----------------------------------------------
To answer your question, I was in Punta Gorda and went through the eye and eye wall of the storm. We had boarded up, but thought we were safe even if it came in as a Cat 1 or 2. Well, something hit one of our boards and pushed it in enough to lift out the nails a little. The wind got in under it and blew the board off. Next thing you know a small roof tile flies through our front window. Before you know it just about every window in the house blows out and the roof is gone. Then a wall goes here and a wall goes there. I'd say winds at our house were easily 140 mph and gusting to possibly 185.
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619. moonlightcowboy
3:09 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/medr/9mh.gif

Hipdeep, wonder what steering currents will look like compared to this time frame? Not very far out I know; but, sure makes it look like Texas is "wide open" to me. JMHO, cause I am purely novice!!! Still too far out for me to speculate, really!

(and btw, thanks for the link!)
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618. moonlightcowboy
3:09 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Atlantic Still Quiet

By Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski

The tropical Atlantic, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, shows no important features. Tropical waves are located along 95 west, 78 west, along 50 west, along 35 west and along 20 west. The waves are moving to the west at an average pace of 6-8 degrees longitude per day. This is a slightly faster pace than a couple of weeks ago. The pace has increased due to the Atlantic high building a bit more to the south, which has caused the trade wind flow to increase. This increase in the trade wind flow should continue through the rest of the week. The wave along 94 west does not extend far enough north to bring Texas any enhancement at this point. But, moisture behind this wave might get drawn northward during tomorrow night and Thursday enhancing rain and thunderstorm development over eastern Texas. Given the ongoing flooding over parts of eastern Texas, this could lead to a very dangerous situation in flood-prone areas. The waves across the Atlantic are still being suppressed by a large area of African dust. Derived information from satellite images show that this dust extends from the African coast all the way into the eastern Caribbean. The overall set-up we have seen both in the upper-air pattern and lower atmosphere for the past few weeks is somewhat similar to the 1998 tropical season. In that year, we did not see any robust development until the second week of August. Then we had 10 tropical cyclones in less than 30 days across the Atlantic Basin. As stated earlier in the month, July is a very quiet month on average and the heart of the Atlantic tropical system occurs during August and September.
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617. amazinwxman
3:05 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Anything of tropical interest going on tonight?
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615. sullivanweather
2:59 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Krothie,

tropical cyclones are a necessary evil as they are big-time heat distributers.

But remember even a re-curving hurricane is still a threat to mariners. Also once it recurves it always has a chance it hitting the UK who are dealing with their own flooding problems right now.

Thankfully the activity thus far has been low and hopefully this give some places time to recover, like Texas, and prepare (those of us along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.)
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614. stormwatcher247
2:59 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Thanks
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613. moonlightcowboy
2:58 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Stormwatcher, you can go here to learn something about CV storms and SAL. (beg forgiveness, it needs a lil updating from this morning). Thanks. Lot of other good links there under "Tropcial Lagniappe" by some of this blog's better, experienced casters.
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612. moonlightcowboy
2:57 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
"Curving" out to sea won't happen in the next week, especially with a ridge building back in!
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611. stormwatcher247
2:56 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Please recognize that I am still learning. What is the SAL?
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610. KoritheMan
9:54 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
I see your point. Let's hope nothing happens then. But I am quite ready for a storm to track. I don't want it to hit, but I would like at least a recurving storm...
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609. sullivanweather
2:55 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
John hope is my hero...lol j/k
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608. sullivanweather
2:54 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Krothie....lol

I didn't even read your full post...

Yes, the moisture aspect is what I'm trying to hit on...
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607. sullivanweather
2:50 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: KoritheMan at 2:32 AM GMT on July 25, 2007.

Let's hope nothing gets organized. With all the TCHP in the Gulf of Mexico this system has the potential to grab up tons of moisture if anything gets going.

Is a Category 1 hurricane really that bad? If something did spin up in the BOC, it wouldn't have much time over water if it took a Bret path. It may be a Category 2 at worst case scenario. I understand what you mean about moisture, though; it could dump tremendous amounts of rainfall in Mexico and Texas. But, if it only has 24 hours or so over water, a Category 1 or 2 is all it would probably reach.



Krothieman,

that wasn't the point I was trying to make. The point I'm making is that with all the TCHP there's lots of available moisture that could get sucked up into this system.

Even if only a tropical depression makes landfall in Texas it won't be a good situation at all with all the flooding there that's already occuring.

A tropical system would just be gas on the fire.
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606. gthsii
2:52 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
StormW: this site has 3-hour (and sometimes more frequent) shots of the Africa continent

http://oiswww.eumetsat.org/SDDI/cgi/listImages.pl

if you add ?m=prod
to the end of the URl above you'll get hourly shots as well.
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605. moonlightcowboy
2:52 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/tropic/real-time/wavetrak/winds/m8wvmid.jpg
MID LEVEL WATER VAPOR


...no drugs tonight, promise! Though I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once (and had a couple of cocktails tonight); but look at this old African elephant with his snout up in the air!!! Looks like he's spitting out a storm for us!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
603. moonlightcowboy
2:44 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Have a good sleep, Jp! Tomorrow, I'll need your help with a couple of questions; but, rest tonight...things are gonna get fast, quickly! We'll need your help, man!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
602. moonlightcowboy
2:37 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
LOL, Hipdeep! Well, there's predictions all over the place...but, I think many are accurate. SAL is becoming less of a factor.

And check this out, the ITCZ is north of 10n! First time more than half of it has been that way. Hits 10 north about midway...about the place (I think Ivan) got started and many other storms, too!

Texas is a long shot, I know. We were talking about John Hope earlier and how he offered some instinct to forecasts. He carried a wisdom with him and we respected him. So, my gut tells me(unfortunately) that Texas is due a "C" storm. Nothing really to back it up, except for the obvious generalities. Carib to GOM would depend on steering currents for sure.

However, that huge high (now at 1028) scares me a bit. Just makes it look to me that the "train" and the track is through the Caribbean.

Hope for sure I'm wrong! I also still keep looking for a sfc low to do something off the SA coast. Who knows...time, just time!
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600. stormybil
2:34 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
if the blob in ycatan heading for the gulf forms its looking good will the front make it go north east ?
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599. wederwatcher555
2:35 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
is anything forecast for that blob heading into the GOM
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598. RL3AO
9:32 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
A Cat 1 is not a laughing matter.
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597. AndyN
2:29 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Dr. Gray and Phil Klozbatch update comes out August 3rd.
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595. KoritheMan
9:30 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Let's hope nothing gets organized. With all the TCHP in the Gulf of Mexico this system has the potential to grab up tons of moisture if anything gets going.

Is a Category 1 hurricane really that bad? If something did spin up in the BOC, it wouldn't have much time over water if it took a Bret path. It may be a Category 2 at worst case scenario. I understand what you mean about moisture, though; it could dump tremendous amounts of rainfall in Mexico and Texas. But, if it only has 24 hours or so over water, a Category 1 or 2 is all it would probably reach.
Member Since: March 7, 2007 Posts: 552 Comments: 19871
594. RL3AO
9:28 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
A guy that lived near where Charley made landfall had a beef with the NHC because they had it making landfall in Tampa. We explained that he was in the cone and under a hurricane warning so it was his fault for not taking precautions.
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593. sullivanweather
2:27 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
RL,

lol...must have.

What was the jist of it?
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592. RL3AO
9:26 PM CDT on July 24, 2007

They now know that it doesn't matter where a cyclone makes landfall, but that a much larger area is affected.

You must have missed the discussion earlier than.
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591. sullivanweather
2:24 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
RL,

I think the public is much more educated after Katrina in the arena of tropical cyclones.

They now know that it doesn't matter where a cyclone makes landfall, but that a much larger area is affected.

That's just my opinion, I really can't say for sure.


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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.