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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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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590. RL3AO
9:23 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
i think its around aug 15 before updates for the season come out



The CSU came out 8/3 last year and 8/2 in 2005.
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589. moonlightcowboy
2:21 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
LOL, Sully...that's kind of what this is all about!

...ok, let me see? Still predict a named storm before July's end. It'll be Chantal(roflmao!)...and it'll be from an eatl storm hitting the trek through the Carib and finding the GOM with landfall on the Texas coast! Texans are familiar with A,B,C named storms!

...now, how's that for blind stupidity? lol
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29610
588. wpascoguy
2:23 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
New update Aug 4th Col. ST.
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587. RL3AO
9:20 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Personally, I think when NOAA issues the season predictions, they should just give the percentages:

xx% above average
xx% average
xx% below average

and throw in a much above average and much below average if you wish. Just like I don't think the NHC should put in the black line on the forecast track map. People get too focused on a specific number or area.
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586. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
2:19 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
i think its around aug 15 before updates for the season come out
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 189 Comments: 59031
585. sullivanweather
2:17 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
RL,

I hate it when folks make 'predictions' half way through the season...lol

It doesn't make any sense.
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584. JLPR
2:17 AM GMT on Julio 25, 2007
we have a new invest but in the west pacific
:D 96W
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583. MrNiceville
2:15 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Pat-

That image kinda looks like a Warhol painting of Lady Di overlaid on a map...
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582. RL3AO
9:12 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
The Colorado State August prediction should be out in about 10 days. Anyone have a specific date?
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581. moonlightcowboy
2:13 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Have a good sleep, SJ, thanks for stopping by. I've got some updating to do, sure have been busy. I'm counting that all you veterans will hold down the fort, and hopefully keep the doors closed.

...ok, gang, nightshift is clocking in. lol

...bring me to speed, please! TIA
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29610
579. stoormfury
2:11 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
good nite till 9.00 utc
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578. sullivanweather
2:09 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Brazocane,

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.
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577. EdMahmoud
2:05 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
This one goes to 0130 (ADD aviation datellite loop)
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576. Patrap
9:07 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Later SJ.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
575. Patrap
9:06 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
NCEP - Ocean Prediction Center
Experimental Gridded Scatterometer Winds

Link

reloaded,scuse
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
574. StormJunkie
2:05 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Night all ☺

Keep an eye on the BOC and the EATL...see everyone in the am
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16970
573. brazocane
1:58 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Houston Mets are saying that area in the boc is an area to watch, not for tropical development so much, but the amount of tropical moisture that will be pulled into coastal texas from a low that will form over central texas yet again. Expected 2-4 in daily again through the weekend. But we all know around here little areas of convection like that in the boc spin up quickly even if only to a t.d..
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572. EdMahmoud
2:02 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
1012 mb about 150 km WNW of the blob coming off the Yucatan.
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571. stoormfury
2:00 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
could someone tell ne if there are problems with the satelite feed.? the last images were posted at 00.15 utc
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569. EdMahmoud
2:00 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
BOC buoy shows falling pressure

BOC Buoy
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568. Patrap
9:01 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Scatterometer link Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
566. Patrap
8:59 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
That wouldnt be the best idea Nice..LOL
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
564. sullivanweather
1:57 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Drak...

If you use imageshack you could post a thumbnail image as well.

MichaelSTL put me on to that...


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563. EdMahmoud
1:49 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Screwed up hotlink from buoy in BOC.

Pressure starting to fall in BOC
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562. Patrap
8:58 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
The blogs use only 2-3 % of the server for the wunderground..thats it.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
561. MrNiceville
1:56 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
I don't care either way - gobs of bandwidth here. But, for the sake of the folks down in the islands and elsehwere, I guess links are kinder. Guess we should all emulate Pat... (grin)
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560. Patrap
8:56 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Theres plenty of Bandwidth here.If the page loads slow..make sure one is using..50 comment showing.It helps big time
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
559. RL3AO
8:57 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
What is this dial-up you speak of?
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558. Patrap
8:56 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Linking is THE best way to post..for those still on Dial-up
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
557. Patrap
8:55 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Static images do not slow the load times.Only animated gifs...
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
556. sullivanweather
1:54 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Besides that....there's others on here that may have a dial-up connection which'll take this page forever to load...


I'm not saying stop....just to tone it down a bit..
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555. Drakoen
1:54 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: sullivanweather at 1:53 AM GMT on July 25, 2007.

Drak,

There's really no need to post a satellite image every 10 minutes...

You're killing bandwidth..


ah ok. I won't post anymore...
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553. sullivanweather
1:51 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Drak,

There's really no need to post a satellite image every 10 minutes...

You're killing bandwidth..
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552. Tazmanian
6:51 PM PDT on July 24, 2007
has any one seen nash28 today?
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5093 Comments: 115917
550. Drakoen
1:47 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
looks like some heat in the blog for the moment i left lol.
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547. cjnew
8:43 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
That part would be his opinion.
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545. cjnew
8:40 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
JP if I read correctly he was just asking him to stop....not actually telling him.
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543. MrNiceville
1:31 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
Gotcha now - I'm going to be working at the main campus down on Jeff Hwy...
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542. Miamiweather
1:30 AM GMT on July 25, 2007
STORMW you got mail

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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