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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2091. moonlightcowboy
4:29 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Wow, Keeper...does that make you a Viking? lol, jfk!

Glad you watch the blog like you do. Like your posts!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
2088. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:23 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
i just thougt u were out there in the leewards thats all maybe it someone else and just in case ur wondering iam in newfoundland way up here on the most eastly point in N.A.
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2087. KoritheMan
11:22 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
Good night, tropicalman.

huh? no it did not 2006 did not have any US hurricane land fall at all Gordon stay a fish storm

A hurricane is a hurricane... Although not terribly bad (I don't mind anything below Cat 3 intensity), a hurricane is a hurricane, no matter the category. Tell the people in the Azores Gordon was a fish storm and they'll tell you real quick like it was probably a bad storm for them. And the 100 mph wind gusts in Spain that Gordon's extratropical remnants brought are impressive.
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2084. LSU
4:26 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
I had evacuated to Baton Rouge for it, so I only experienced a calmed down version of it. And my house is Uptown, so no flooding.
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2082. moonlightcowboy
4:23 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
I sure would like someone to interpret the 805TWD...and tell me where/when they are talking about exactly!
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2079. LSU
4:23 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Heh, I was just playing with you.

I live in New Orleans, btw.
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2077. KoritheMan
11:20 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
hey k m no ill will intented just wondering if u were in carb. islands (leewards) fla gom just general location not where u live

If you must know, I live in southeast Louisiana. I've been through numerous tropical cyclones since I've been here.

No, he was asking what you eat for breakfast.

Can't say I didn't deserve that sarcastic response after how mean I was earlier to eye and everyone else. I apologized for that, but it backfired on me now! >_>
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2076. Tazmanian
9:20 PM PDT on July 25, 2007
Posted By: tropicaldude298 at 9:19 PM PDT on July 25, 2007.

Actually 2006 Gordon did make landfall as a 100 mph Category 2 hurricane, so everyone should stop complaining that 2006 had no hurricane landfalls.


huh? no it did not 2006 did not have any US hurricane land fall at all Gordon stay a fish storm
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2072. moonlightcowboy
4:19 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Posted By: KEEPEROFTHEGATE at 4:04 AM GMT on July 26, 2007.
wave will die just like all the rest this time tomorrow night it will exit coast of africa then poof there it is gone


...lol, Keeper. It may, may not...eventually one of them is gonna have a little glue in it!

Yep, Kori, you called those facts up quickly for that discussion. Impressive.
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
2070. KoritheMan
11:18 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
My interpretation is that the wave mentioned is obviously already in the water. Yet, the latest sfc map doesn't indicate a wave there. Other opinions?

I wondered this too...

EXCELLENT, historical facts, Kori...wtg! I'm like you, think so, too.

What is excellent historical facts? My Alberto and Alex description things?
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2069. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:17 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
hey k m no ill will intented just wondering if u were in carb. islands (leewards) fla gom just general location not where u live
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2067. LSU
4:16 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
My location? What do you mean? Where I live?

No, he was asking what you eat for breakfast.
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2066. moonlightcowboy
4:16 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Good point, T'man. The train is beginning to pull out of the station...folks will see soon enough.
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
2063. KoritheMan
11:15 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
People people, please stop thinking that because this year isnt a 2005, which was very active...and un heard of...that this season is dead many of you may think that this season is already below normal well actually we are above normal with the 2 systems that have formed already....2005 hypnotized many people and therefore that year has many of you thinking we should of had 6-7 named storms by now well that isnt the case...we are only suppose to have between 1-3 storms by now...so we are right on track of waht a normal to above normal season s suppose to be like...do not put your foot up and sit back in that reliner thinking oh..nothigns going to go on this year because thats not the case...if anything this year will turn out to be above normal...so be ready prepare and be safe for an active august, september and october...!

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! SOMEONE REALIZES THE TRUTH!

*crowns you*

I love tracking storms, I like fish storms because they give you something to track at no extra risk!

I agree. I love fish storms. Mariners can avoid them most likely, and they aren't really a threat to land masses and when they do hit, they usually are fairly weak (although Gordon's remnants in 2006 were not weak; it brought 100 mph wind gusts in some parts of Spain as an extratropical system, and it certainly wasn't weak when it hit the Azores as a strong Category 1 hurricane).
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2062. moonlightcowboy
4:11 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
EXCELLENT, historical facts, Kori...wtg! I'm like you, think so, too.

I've a question. Read the 805TWD, then look at the QS at the lat/lon it mentions. My interpretation is that the wave mentioned is obviously already in the water. Yet, the latest sfc map doesn't indicate a wave there. Other opinions?

TAZ...I take you post to mean the huge blog still over Africa is the one you think will develop once it hits the Atlantic. Right? Or are you talking about this one that I think the 805TWD is talking about?
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
2059. KoritheMan
11:13 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
k m whats ur general location

My location? What do you mean? Where I live? How does this have any relevance to the tropical wave over Africa?
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2057. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:08 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
k m whats ur general location
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2056. moonlightcowboy
4:08 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Very nicely said, T'man...and the same to you! Have a good sleep!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
2055. weatherblog
4:06 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
No, JFLORIDA...I think most of us are a bit more interested on the waves off of Africa and our CATL wave. Though, I think our BOC may escape the shear and develop...but nobody seems to be thinking that. Maybe, cause the blob doesn't have a sfc low...?
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2054. Tazmanian
9:07 PM PDT on July 25, 2007
: moonlightcowboy this one will it has a vary good ch of be comeing 98L right off the top

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2053. KoritheMan
11:07 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
wave will die just like all the rest this time tomorrow night it will exit coast of africa then poof there it is gone

I hope that you know you can't control the weather by your words. I'm not trying to be mean, but it's true.

Sounds like you've lost faith in this hurricane season already. Nah man, it'll get active, just wait! I can't control weather either, but that's a fact that it'll get active.
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2051. moonlightcowboy
4:05 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
Kori, again, agree with you. Obviously, the CV storms have a better chance to curve because they start out further east depending on the conditions you mentioned.

Also, coriolis itself, automatically moves a developing storm 2 degrees north when it breaks from the Itcz...(read that somewhere, lol)!
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29594
2049. KoritheMan
11:03 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
Yall want to hear something scary?

Take this with a graint of salt; doesn't mean it will happen, so please no panicing or no trolling (again, I ask please). It MIGHT happen though, and if this wave holds up, it could be a TD before Sunday.

This is for the wave that spawned Alberto in 2000 (which became one of the longest-lasting storms in the Atlantic basin):

A well-formed tropical wave was identified over central Africa based on satellite imagery on 30 July. The wave moved steadily westward and moved off the African coast on 3 August. Once over the open Atlantic Ocean, the wave quickly developed and became Tropical Depression Three later that day.

And this is for the wave that spawned Alex in 1998:

On July 26, a tropical wave moved westward off the coast of Africa. The wave, already well organized, soon encountered favorable elements for development. On the 27th, Tropical Depression One formed while 300 n mi south-southwest of Cape Verde.

That's what this wave reminds me of... especially the former.
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2047. Tazmanian
9:04 PM PDT on July 25, 2007
thanks TropicalMan07
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2044. weatherblog
4:02 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
I see, we are watching something on Africa. Umm...still way too far away to talk about development from a wave thats still on Africa. LOL...though that's what a weather blog is for. :)

Anyways, come check out my blog, about the two areas of interest in the Atlantic today.
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2043. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
3:58 AM GMT on July 26, 2007
wave will die just like all the rest this time tomorrow night it will exit coast of africa then poof there it is gone
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2042. KoritheMan
11:01 PM CDT on July 25, 2007
But if the Bermuda High has a gaping hole in it like it did last year, will it matter much that the SAL will be missing this year?

A little bit. Ernesto and Chris didn't develop immediately because of strong SAL. If SAL is non-existant when a wave like that comes this year, immediate development may occur, rather than when the wave is in the central Carribean or eastern Carribean.

Cape Verde storms have the greatest chance to recurve though, but please do not think that it means everyone of them will, nor that 2007 will be like 2006; the way Dr. Masters talked, 2007 will be unique in that both troughs and ridges will be present throughout the year, as opposed to purely a trough or ridge.
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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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