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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391. charliesurvivor
10:44 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Sorry if I was brash cs04.What city are you in?
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390. charley04survivor
10:43 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Sorry, Ive been here for a couple of weeks and this is the first time I've seen you.
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389. charliesurvivor
10:36 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Charley04 survivor use another name,ive been using this name for two years,you might embarrass me
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383. HIEXPRESS
10:09 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: IKE at 9:31 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.
I'm not a met...so don't take my word on it...but, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Thats my line...!
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382. charley04survivor
10:12 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
I know that is interesting...August 13, 2004 is the day Charley hit... I didn't even think of that.

It said on the 13th...so I take that as the next 13th we get... scary!
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380. nolesjeff
9:49 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: charley04survivor at 9:35 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.

Bad omen: I am eating Chinese for dinner...and my fortune cookie says the following: "Expect a great tempest on the 13th." Ut oh!
Interesting, 3 years ago on that date, YOUR NAME
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378. RL3AO
4:47 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Dalila is certainly getting better organized
377. SAINTHURRIFAN
9:42 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
there is nothing in the central atl but itcz and dust shear and dust for wave in africa middle of aug things should heat up i think storm w nailed it remember no tropical formation expected next 48 hours
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375. charley04survivor
9:33 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Bad omen: I am eating Chinese for dinner...and my fortune cookie says the following: "Expect a great tempest on the 13th." Ut oh!
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373. IKE
4:30 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
stoormfury...I think it's gonna be a few days before something forms....

I'm not a met...so don't take my word on it...but, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
372. stoormfury
9:24 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
NHC says no development during the nexe 48hrs/ They are being cautious. they might change their minds by this tine tomorrow
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371. Dakster
9:29 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Just kidding... Ummm.. to throw a WAG, I'd say end of August, how about August 21.
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370. Dakster
9:27 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
h23,

1pm is my guess.
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369. hurricaneman23
9:26 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
when is the first hurricane going to hit the US this year? any predictions?
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368. Murko
9:23 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: IKE at 9:21 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.
Yeah...we're all gonna die Mike.
The only question then is heaven or he11.


I'm just gonna rot in the earth. Interesting use of figure ones.
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367. IKE
4:20 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Yeah...we're all gonna die Mike.

The only question then is heaven or he11.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
366. BoyntonBeach
9:20 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL
504 PM EDT TUE JUL 24 2007

FLZ067-068-168-242145-
INLAND PALM BEACH COUNTY FL-METRO PALM BEACH COUNTY FL-
COASTAL PALM BEACH COUNTY FL-
504 PM EDT TUE JUL 24 2007

...STRONG THUNDERSTORMS MOVING ACROSS THE AREA...

AT 500 PM EDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED
STRONG THUNDERSTORMS ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM JUPITER TO 6 MILES
SOUTHWEST OF LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. THESE STORMS WERE
MOVING EAST AT 5 MPH.

THESE STORMS WILL AFFECT...

ROYAL PALM BEACH...
LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE...
FLORIDA GARDENS...

AND SURROUNDING COMMUNITIES THROUGH 545 PM.

FREQUENT TO EXCESSIVE LIGHTNING...GUSTY WINDS TO 50 MPH...PEA-SIZED
HAIL...TORRENTIAL DOWNPOURS...OR A COMBINATION OF THESE ARE POSSIBLE.
LIGHTNING IS THE NUMBER ONE WEATHER RELATED KILLER IN FLORIDA. TREES
AND OPEN SHELTERS OFFER NO PROTECTION. WIND GUSTS OF UP TO 50 MPH CAN
DOWN SMALL TREE LIMBS AND BRANCHES...AND BLOW AROUND UNSECURED SMALL
OBJECTS. SEEK SHELTER IN A SAFE BUILDING UNTIL THE STORM PASSES.

STAY TUNED TO NOAA WEATHER RADIO AND OTHER LOCAL MEDIA FOR FURTHER
DETAILS OR UPDATES.

$$
GARCIA
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365. MikeOhio
9:19 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Interesting blog today.

But still...

WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!


:-D
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364. IKE
4:15 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
"Statement as of 5:30 PM EDT on July 24, 2007

For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico...

Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 48 hours.

$$
Forecaster Blake"......


That gets it through July 26th with no tropical cyclones.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
361. CJ5
8:58 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Well the disturbance at 35/12 had skeleton circulation last night but there has been some development to the north which is a good sign.

I do not think this is the disturbance being pointed out on the models as the development they are forecasting crosses 40w in 84-96 hours. The above system will be there is 12 or so. Thoughts?
Member Since: July 4, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1755
360. tampahurricane
9:09 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
thank you
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359. StormJunkie
9:07 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Afternoon all ☺

th, try here for SAL. mlc has some great info there.
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358. IKE
4:05 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Another cold front makes it all the way to the gulf coast the first of next week...this from Mobile,AL.....

"Long term...(friday through next tuesday)...forecast area will
remain on the southern end of the eastern states upper trough through
much of the period. Meanwhile deep layer moisture will remain
plentiful as the central Gulf Coast remain on the western periphery
of the subtropical ridge. A shortwave will move across the Great
Lakes on Saturday and into the northeast on Sunday. This will send a
surface cold front into the southeast by late in the weekend. This front
will sink slowly south into the area by next Mon/Tue.
The lingering
upper trough and slightly cooler middle level temperatures along west/ an
approaching frontal boundary will keep the atmosphere unsettled with
above climatology rain chances and slightly cooler maximum temperatures. /13"
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
357. tampahurricane
9:03 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
can some one post the SAL.
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356. IKE
4:02 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Dalila...in the east PAC, is up to 55 knot winds, even though..."Vertical shear is currently around 16 knots or so".
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
355. Chicklit
8:57 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Get Real...Forecaster suspects that convection will be slow to diminish...
That means more rain.
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354. BoyntonBeach
9:01 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
TCW we are getting hammered down here! 63 dbz on the radar !
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353. Patrap
3:53 PM CDT on July 24, 2007
Im in tropics chat if anyone wants to banter the tropics
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352. GetReal
8:50 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
I just found it to be "suspect", the way it was worded CW.... Hang around and what???
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351. sullivanweather
8:46 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: sullivanweather at 12:19 PM GMT on July 21, 2007.

I give an 80% chance that we'll see an invest with one of the next 3 waves coming off Africa.

They all look formidable and they're coming off the coast in close sucession. This should prevent the amount of SAL that has been flooding in behind the previous waves, giving them more moisture to work with.

Quite a few waves have already come off the coast this year with a decent vorticy associated with them, but the SAL killed them off.
If the organization that some of the previous waves have shown continue once the SAL drops off we could be looking at a very big Cape Verde season.


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350. emagirl
8:48 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
almost time to go home.....but before i leave i would like opinions on who thinks we will have a storm before july is over,,,,,,,just curious
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349. Murko
8:45 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Thanks, tropicnerd, but I'm looking for a close up of the Bahamas.
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348. TheCaneWhisperer
4:35 PM EDT on July 24, 2007
Afternoon All!
GetReal
I am pretty sure they mean "We think the convection will take a while to diminish." To put it in different terms.
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347. Tropicnerd13
8:42 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
goodbye for today
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346. Tropicnerd13
8:37 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
here one is noobie
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345. Tropicnerd13
8:35 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
ok well im about to leave now so if anyone can answer my question please do so. i think it is yes. i saw a pic of both n atl and s atl and there are two s atl systems going south into antarctica.
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344. Murko
8:30 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Hey, I know I'm a noob, but does anyone have a link for this that I posted earlier?

Quick question: what's the best rainbow IR loop map to use for the Bahamas, which will give a fairly close up image, and most recently updated? The one on WU is OK but often a bit screwed up, and GOES is usually about an hour behind current time.
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343. Stormchaser2007
4:35 PM EDT on July 24, 2007
Tropical Weather Outlook


Statement as of 11:30 am EDT on July 24, 2007

For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico...

Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 48 hours.

$$
Forecaster Avila
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342. GetReal
8:32 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
205 PM EDT TUE JUL 24 2007


...DISCUSSION...
GULF OF MEXICO...
THE REMNANTS OF A COMPLEX FRONTAL SYSTEM CONTINUES TO PRODUCE
MESSY WEATHER ESPECIALLY OVER THE NE GULF THIS AFTERNOON. AS OF
24/1500 UTC...A 1014 MB LOW IS JUST OFF THE
MISSISSIPPI/LOUISIANA COAST NEAR 30N89W. A TROUGH EXTENDS E FROM
THE LOW THROUGH 30N85W TO THE NRN W COAST OF FL NEAR 29N83W.
ANOTHER TROUGH EXTENDS SW/WSW FROM THE LOW TO 28N94W. ASSOCIATED
NUMEROUS SHOWERS/TSTMS ARE MAINLY S OF THE LOW/TROUGHS AND N OF
24N. THIS ACTIVITY IS ALSO BEING SUPPORTED BY LIFT AHEAD OF AN
ELONGATED UPPER TROUGH EXTENDING SW FROM ERN LOUISIANA TO
CENTRAL MEXICO. AN ATLC SFC RIDGE WILL GRADUALLY BUILD W ACROSS
THE GULF OVER THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS...BUT SUSPECT CONVECTION
WILL BE SLOW TO DIMINISH WITH THE UPPER TROUGH OVER THE AREA
DRIFTING SLOWLY NW.

Does anyone have any idea what the NHC means by "suspect convection" in this discussion post???

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341. Tropicnerd13
8:31 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
do all low level circulation systems go north into the arctic or south into antarctica?
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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.