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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191. Drakoen
5:04 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Thanks...
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190. ryang
1:02 PM AST on July 24, 2007
Here
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189. Drakoen
5:00 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
ryang can you give me the link please.
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188. Drakoen
4:58 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
IKE it doesn't look like its developing a system if you look more closely the low looks like its attached to a trough.
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187. ryang
12:58 PM AST on July 24, 2007
By the way, I got that from ''Accuweather''.
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186. ryang
12:58 PM AST on July 24, 2007
Satellite images show a very impressive thunderstorm complex moving into western Africa mostly south of 15 north. This should produce a healthy tropical wave in a couple of days. Long-range computer model output is hinting at possible development over the central Atlantic this weekend perhaps from this feature. But given the amount of dust showing up across the eastern, central and southern North Atlantic, it development in that part of the basin that soon if the dust persists.
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185. IKE
11:56 AM CDT on July 24, 2007
CMC/GEM(go ahead and laugh), develops a system near the Florida panhandle in 132 hours and shoots it NE.....

Link
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184. Drakoen
4:53 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: EdMahmoud at 4:49 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.

Thing are gonna get very interesting over the next few days. The GFS 12z shows two areas. The current wave of Africa (develops it somewhat) and then another wave 138 hours out as a 1007mb low.



I disagree. Don't let it bother you, I am an amateur. But nothing looks that good to me on satellite. Might get a Cape Verde storm right at the end of the month, maybe, but my gut is no named storms for July.


We'll know in a week.


True nothing looks good now. TWC says there is a low associated with the vigorous wave of Africa. Just something to watch.
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183. EdMahmoud
4:38 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Thing are gonna get very interesting over the next few days. The GFS 12z shows two areas. The current wave of Africa (develops it somewhat) and then another wave 138 hours out as a 1007mb low.


I disagree. Don't let it bother you, I am an amateur. But nothing looks that good to me on satellite. Might get a Cape Verde storm right at the end of the month, maybe, but my gut is no named storms for July.


We'll know in a week.
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182. weathers4me
4:43 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
I remember we had sustained winds (can't reall how fast) for 2 days and there was a lot of tidal flooding pushing ashore.
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180. GainesvilleGator
4:38 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
It is nice to know that I am not the only one who remembers Hurricane Elena in 1985. Elena was heading for Louisiana & then stopped & made a right hand turn before stalling 50 miles off of Cedar Key. It stayed stationary for 24-36 hours before going back to Louisiana. I lived in Bronson, FL at that time and remember the on again, off again rain coming through for a few days.
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179. Drakoen
4:23 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Thing are gonna get very interesting over the next few days. The GFS 12z shows two areas. The current wave of Africa (develops it somewhat) and then another wave 138 hours out as a 1007mb low.
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178. thelmores
4:21 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
we set a record low temp in Myrtle beach this morning, 64f, breaking the old record of 68f... which was set back in 1954....

coincidentally, 1954 was also the year we had Hurricane Hazel....... which caused much destruction on the grand strand.

makes you wonder, could this show any insight??

probably not, but a coincidence worth noting.....
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173. Drakoen
4:10 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
blog is slow today...
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171. weathers4me
3:49 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Remember Charley? Here is some footage of Charlie August 13 (Friday 2004).


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqGjKVO_qJ0
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170. Drakoen
4:01 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
the whole area in the BOC looks like a mess. the upper level winds are running 20kts.
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167. moonlightcowboy
4:00 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Later, SJ. Hello, StormW...look fwd to your analysis. Thanks.
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166. StormJunkie
4:00 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
My bad, I said WATL, I meant EATL...Duh...
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165. StormJunkie
3:58 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Ok, bout time for me to head back to work.

Easily find forecast models, imagery, marine data, preparedness info, and much more...
Quick Links

See y'all later
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164. moonlightcowboy
3:58 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: jphurricane2006 at 3:58 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.
so we have some more agreement on something in the BOC?


...hear ya, Jp. That wave has been "sneaky" all along!
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162. Drakoen
3:57 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
The wave looks pretty vigorous on the EUMETSAT imagery
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161. StormJunkie
3:55 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Drak, as STL pointed out yesterday, be careful with the pressure analysis as the models often do not accurately forecast pressures. Hence a 1009 model prediction could easily turn out to be a 1000mb system

Hey SW ☺ Look forward to reading the synopsis when I get home.
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160. moonlightcowboy
3:49 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: gulfcoastdweller at 3:32 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.
I would like to chime in here, since I do live on the Miss Gulf Coast, 1 block from the beach.....


...excellent points, GCDweller!
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159. sunlakedude
3:55 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
To: Stormy3.
Yes, that's a good question. I live in the New Orleans area and we heard from our officials for years that the Superdome was rated to withstand a CAT 5 hurricane and we all know what happened to the roof during Katrina. Katrina was a 3 when she finally came ashore in Southeast Louisiana & Mississipi and the eyewall didn't pass over the Superdome area at all. I was also shocked to see how many buildings all around town collapsed. Many of these buildings were made of masonry block which I thought was a wind resistant form of constuction. In addition, almost all of the high rises especially in downtown New Orleans and suburban Metairie lost large numbers of windows. The windows popped out and the office furniture was sucked out and fell to the streets below. I would like to know how they rate buildings for wind resistance.
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158. stormy3
3:35 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Thanks all, some really great input!! I have the scary feeling that some of the decisions that are being made is solely based on what was requested of the contractor at the time of construction. Will definitely check with the sources you provided. OOPPPS I was wrong, is not what i want to hear after the fact.
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157. Drakoen
3:53 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Hey StormW. Looks like we might see some action over the next few days.
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154. Drakoen
3:51 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
So far the GFS 12z run is showing something. 1009mb low.
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153. ryang
11:50 AM AST on July 24, 2007
Ok Drak... Any QuickSCAT over it yet?

Doing good SJ...Thanks!!
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152. StormJunkie
3:47 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
How's it going ryang? Hope all is well.

I am inclined now to think that we may see a WATL I meant EATL TD with in the next week, but that is as much a guess with a little model guidance thrown in...lol ☺
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150. Drakoen
3:47 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Its of ryang.
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147. Drakoen
3:47 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: ryang at 3:45 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.

Drak... Are you sure?LOL


Yes. The TWC almost never says something like that.
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146. ryang
11:47 AM AST on July 24, 2007
Hello SJ
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145. ryang
11:45 AM AST on July 24, 2007
I thought the wave was to come off Tomorrow?
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144. StormJunkie
3:42 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Hey all

Yep Drak, and the GFS really likes the WATL wave.
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143. EdMahmoud
3:39 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
About Tampa Bay being overdue. Yes, it is. But, in my unscientific opinion, the greatest risk of a big one hitting Tampa is in October. Hard to get a direct impact with max damage when a storm is coming obliquely, like Charley almost did, and I've read opinion that when a storm is paralleling a coastline like that, frictional weakening of the side on land will induce a motion inland.

The same reason that Texas has had only a single October hurricane (minimal Cat 1 Jerry in 1989) in 60 years is why Tampa would be most at risk. Steering currents from a Westerly direction, taking storms on a path for a direct hit that maximizes the surge.
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142. ryang
11:44 AM AST on July 24, 2007
Drak... Are you sure?LOL
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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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