The future of wind shear: will it decrease the number of hurricanes?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:55 PM GMT on May 21, 2008

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Could global warming increase wind shear over the Atlantic, potentially leading to a decrease in the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes? Several modeling studies are now predicting this, and it is a reasonable hypothesis. The most recent study, "Simulated reduction in Atlantic hurricane frequency under twenty-first-century warming conditions", was published Sunday in Nature Geosciences. The authors, led by Tom Knutson of NOAA's GFDL laboratory, showed that global warming may reduce the number of Atlantic tropical storms by 27% and hurricanes by 18% by the end of the century. However, their model also found that the strongest hurricanes would get stronger.

An important reason that their model predicted a decrease in the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes was due to a predicted increase in wind shear. As I explain in my wind shear tutorial, a large change of wind speed with height over a hurricane creates a shearing force that tends to tear the storm apart. The amount of wind shear is critical in determining whether a hurricane can form or survive.

The main sources wind shear over the tropical Atlantic:
1) The jet stream is the primary year-round source of high wind shear over the Atlantic. The jet can have two branches--the main northerly polar jet, and a weaker subtropical jet that blows over the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean. In winter, the jet stream is far to the south, bringing very high levels of wind shear to the tropical Atlantic. The Caribbean Sea is warm enough year-round to support hurricane formation, but high levels of wind shear from the southerly position of the jet stream prevents wintertime hurricanes from forming. In the summer, the jet stream retreats to the north, but can still loop far enough south to create hurricane-hazardous wind shear.

2) The large-scale tropical atmospheric circulation pattern known as the Walker Circulation (Figure 1) can bring high wind shear to the Atlantic. A weak Walker Circulation brings high wind shear, while a strong Walker Circulation--rising air over the tropics near Australia, combined with sinking air of the coast of South America near Peru--brings weak upper-level winds over the Atlantic, resulting in low levels of wind shear.

3) The presence or absence of an El Niño event has a critical impact on wind shear levels. El Niño events weaken the Walker Circulation, bringing strong upper-level winds out of the west to the Atlantic, creating high wind shear.

4) In summer and fall, Tropical Upper Tropospheric Troughs (TUTTs) and upper-level cold-core low pressure systems ("cold lows") that are cut off from the jet stream often wander through the tropics, bringing high wind shear with them.

5) A strong east-to-west flowing jet of air is frequently found at the southern boundary of the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), a hot, dry region of air found off the coast of Africa during hurricane season. This easterly jet often is strong enough to cause significant wind shear over the hurricane development region of the tropical Atlantic.


Figure 1. Schematic drawing of the Pacific Ocean's Walker Circulation. Warm ocean waters over the Western Pacific near Australia heat the air above, causing it to rise. When the rising air reaches the top of the troposphere, it can't rise any further, and is forced to flow eastwards towards the Atlantic. This air then sinks back to the surface near the Pacific coast of South America, then flows back towards Australia as easterly trade winds. Image credit: Wikipedia.

The future of wind shear
In their 2007 paper, "Increased Tropical Atlantic Wind Shear in Model Projections of Global Warming", Gabe Vecchi of NOAA's GFDL laboratory and Brian Soden of the University of Miami looked at 18 of the models used to formulate the "official word" on the science of climate change, the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate report. Vecchi and Soden found that in the scenario where CO2 doubles to 720 ppm by year 2100 (the so-called "A1B" scenario), these models predict a 1.5-3.5°C increase in global surface air temperature. However, in the Caribbean and some surrounding regions, at least 13 of the 18 models predict that the amount of wind shear rises by 1-2 mph per degree C of warming (Figure 2). The shear increases largely as a result of a weakening of the Walker Circulation. This weakening brings strong upper-level westerly winds to the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean.

The implications
If true, Vecchi and Soden's results imply that we may see fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific by the end of the century, since wind shear is such an important ingredient in their formation. How reliable are these model predictions? If global warming is expected to cause a slowdown in the Walker Circulation and increased wind shear over the tropical Atlantic, shouldn't we be able to see these effects already? There is some evidence that we are seeing these effects. According an article by the same authors published in 2006 in Nature, the observed 0.5-0.6°C global warming in the past century has caused the Walker Circulation to slow down by 3.5%--in line with what theory predicts. Moreover, Wang and Lee (2008) documented a 3 mph increase in wind shear over the tropical Atlantic between 1949-2006 (despite some rather low shear years recently, such as during the record-breaking Hurricane Season of 2005). These results, plus the fact that 13 of the 18 IPCC models predict a tropical Atlantic wind shear increase in the coming century, make the hypothesis that we may see increased wind shear over the Atlantic in coming decades a reasonable one. However, climate scientists Ray Pierrehumbert and Rasmus Benestad argue in a 2006 post on realclimate.org that we need another ten years of observations of the Walker Circulation to confirm that we really are seeing a slowdown. In addition, we need to see if the model predictions of increased wind shear hold up when improved simulations with better data and higher resolutions are performed. These models are fairly primitive in their abilities to simulate these sort of regional climate shifts, and some models predict a strengthening of the Walker Circulation in coming decades--the opposite of what Vecchi and Soden found.


Figure 2. Top: predicted change by 2100 in wind shear (in meters per second per degree C of warming--multiply by two to get mph) as predicted by summing the predictions of 18 climate models. Bottom: The number of models that predict the effect shown in the top image. The dots show the locations where tropical storms formed between 1981-2005. The box indicates a region of frequent hurricane formation where wind shear is not predicted to change much. Image credit: Geophysical Research Letters, "Increased Tropical Atlantic Wind Shear in Model Projections of Global Warming", by Vecchi and Soden, 2007.

Caveats
All other things remaining constant, an increase in wind shear will cause fewer hurricanes to form. However, all other things will not remain constant. As the climate warms, Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) will warm, which may partially or completely offset the effects of increased wind shear. Vecchi and Soden's research also show a substantial increase in wind shear over most of the Southern Hemisphere's hurricane breeding grounds during their hurricane season, but a significant decrease in wind shear over the Western Pacific and North Indian Oceans. Typhoons and cyclones in these ocean basins may well get more numerous and stronger in the future as a result of the lower wind shear. Much more research remains to be done, and it is far too early to be confident of how wind shear might change in a warming world.

References
Vecchi, G.A., B.J. Soden, A.T. Wittenberg, I.M. Held, A. Leetmaa, and M.J. Harrison, 2006, "Weakening of tropical Pacific atmospheric circulation due to anthropogenic forcing", Nature, 441(7089), 73-76.

Vecchi, G.A., and B.J. Soden, 2007, "Increased Tropical Atlantic Wind Shear in Model Projections of Global Warming", Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L08702, doi:10.1029/2006GL028905, 2007.

Wang, C., and S. Lee, 2008, "Global warming and United States landfalling hurricanes", Geophysical Research Letters 35, L02708, doi:10.1029/2007GL032396, 2008.

realclimate.org has a nice discussion of the Veccu and Soden paper.

Jeff Masters

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514. hurricane23
6:21 PM EDT on May 21, 2008
41 days today without a drop of rain in keywest.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
513. 882MB
10:19 PM GMT on Mayo 21, 2008
Hey everybody, good afternoon, Im waiting on the newest run on the GFS18Z,to see if it continues to show development,Is the ECMWF and the GFS the only ones forecasting possible development.
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512. Patrap
5:20 PM CDT on May 21, 2008
Video on Hurricane Tips from the Fla. Sun-Sentinel Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
510. Drakoen
10:19 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
504. StormJunkie 10:14 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
497.

Hitting on all cylinders! Keep it coming man we all need some good smiles ☺


Its been a little uptight in here lately.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
509. Patrap
5:19 PM CDT on May 21, 2008
Energizer Vid on Preparing from the NHC conf here last year. Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
508. hurricane23
6:16 PM EDT on May 21, 2008
Pacific in Neutral state...Lastest update from the Aussies.

Here's a part of the lastest discussion....

Summary: Pacific climate patterns generally neutral
Pacific climate patterns remain generally neutral, although some aspects of the 2007/08 La Niña persist. Lingering La Niña signals include the continued presence of cooler than average water on the equator near the date-line, accompanied by reduced cloud and, in the first few weeks of May, enhanced Trade Winds.

Overall though, the tropical Pacific has been warming gradually during the past few months, with ocean temperatures now near-normal in central and eastern areas. In addition, the Trade Winds have decreased to near-normal levels in the western half of the Pacific and, confirming the return to neutral conditions, the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) is about zero for the past 30 days.

Computer model predictions show Pacific temperatures continuing to gradually increase over the next two seasons, but remaining near-average. The models indicate a low chance of either a stronger warming to El Niño levels or a re-intensification of La Niña conditions during 2008


Complete update HERE
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507. Patrap
5:15 PM CDT on May 21, 2008
<---Uptown Ruler..Offa Jefferson and Magazine now.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
506. Patrap
5:15 PM CDT on May 21, 2008
Katrina changed the demographics..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
505. HurricaneSammy
10:13 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
FEW DAYS TILL HURRICANE SEASON ~!

SO BE PREPARED ! SAFTY COMES FIRST !


- and why am i using caps?
504. StormJunkie
10:12 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
497.

Hitting on all cylinders! Keep it coming man we all need some good smiles ☺
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16872
503. atmoaggie
10:11 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
But anything north of Baton Rouge we call ithe Yankee Storms.LOL

Growing up, we called anyone north of I-10 yankee...including most of BR, with a special exception for Opelousas
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
502. atmoaggie
10:11 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
These probability parameters usually perform well. Until I see some green or "warmer" I shall not get too excited about any early-season blobs...except the cup full before me this joint is peddling as coffee.



Source: Link
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
501. Patrap
10:11 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
I see those lil Popper's KotG

But anything north of Baton Rouge we call them Yankee Storms.LOL

NEXRAD Radar
Fort Polk Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI Link

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
500. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:09 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
you keep beleiving that cane addick
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54370
499. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:08 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
couple of poppers in la n cen area there pat
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54370
498. CaneAddict
10:07 PM GMT on May 21, 2008

488. KEEPEROFTHEGATE 10:03 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
as of 540 pm vis sat image gom basin convection building ne area lets see if it can expand and persist


I doubt that any development will occur with wind shear that high.
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
497. Drakoen
10:06 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
SJ, I'll add a QPF bomb to my jokes maybe that will moisten them up!
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
496. CaneAddict
10:05 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
483. Drakoen 10:01 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
482. CaneAddict 9:59 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
469. HurricaneSammy 9:52 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
I guess We Are not having any possible development soon ....

No one has Posted an outlook or picture for a while

Buddy, Go back a few pages, there's plenty of imagery. Also DO NOT take this offensive but whats with the random capitals?

You have a few random capitals too with the "G" and the "DO NOT".


Obviously the "DO NOT" was intentionally put that way to make those two words most apparent!
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
495. Cavin Rawlins
10:05 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
12Z Model Runs

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
494. HurricaneSammy
10:04 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
481. StormJunkie 9:59 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
Here is a picture


Lol , ...Wow ... Whats This ...Sj?
493. Drakoen
10:04 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
489. StormJunkie 10:03 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
483.
lol :~) The wit and humor here just keeps on coming! You are on a roll today Drak. Granted a little bit of a dry one, but if there are three things that I enjoy dry they are Ribs, Martini's, and humor!


Yes I am on a roll ;P
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
492. CaneAddict
10:04 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
Not that it means much as it always varys but, Values have increased over the past 24 hours.



1-May-2008 1012.62 1010.05 7.90 4.20 11.63
2-May-2008 1012.35 1009.80 7.80 4.08 11.45
3-May-2008 1013.36 1009.40 18.60 4.14 11.46
4-May-2008 1014.64 1010.50 20.00 4.11 11.51
5-May-2008 1013.45 1010.85 8.20 3.65 11.44
6-May-2008 1012.39 1011.10 -1.80 3.67 11.27
7-May-2008 1012.40 1011.20 -2.50 4.04 10.98
8-May-2008 1013.09 1010.45 8.50 4.74 10.75
9-May-2008 1012.30 1009.80 7.40 5.13 10.49
10-May-2008 1012.29 1010.30 3.50 4.93 10.24
11-May-2008 1012.43 1010.40 3.80 4.63 10.05
12-May-2008 1013.74 1010.45 13.50 4.55 9.98
13-May-2008 1014.79 1011.30 15.00 4.80 9.91
14-May-2008 1015.40 1012.10 13.50 5.09 9.89
15-May-2008 1014.95 1012.85 4.30 5.38 9.82
16-May-2008 1013.39 1013.05 -9.10 5.21 9.63
17-May-2008 1011.66 1013.30 -24.20 4.71 9.24
18-May-2008 1011.93 1013.15 -21.00 4.08 8.76
19-May-2008 1011.25 1013.95 -32.30 2.70 8.04
20-May-2008 1009.69 1014.45 -48.10 0.68 7.09
21-May-2008 1012.51 1013.60 -20.00
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
491. Drakoen
10:03 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
I suggest using the NCEP page for the GFS model run.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
490. Patrap
10:03 PM GMT on May 21, 2008

Tropical Atlantic GOES-12 imagery,3 Channels also Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
489. StormJunkie
10:03 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
483.
lol :~) The wit and humor here just keeps on coming! You are on a roll today Drak. Granted a little bit of a dry one, but if there are three things that I enjoy dry they are Ribs, Martini's, and humor!

And best when had together!
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16872
488. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
10:03 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
as of 540 pm vis sat image gom basin convection building ne area lets see if it can expand and persist
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54370
487. HurricaneSammy
10:02 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
000
AXNT20 KNHC 211740
TWDAT

TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
205 PM EDT WED MAY 21 2008

TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION FOR NORTH AMERICA...CENTRAL
AMERICA...THE GULF OF MEXICO...THE CARIBBEAN SEA...NORTHERN
SECTIONS OF SOUTH AMERICA...AND THE ATLANTIC OCEAN TO THE
AFRICAN COAST FROM THE EQUATOR TO 32N. THE FOLLOWING
INFORMATION IS BASED ON SATELLITE IMAGERY...METEOROLOGICAL
ANALYSIS...WEATHER OBSERVATIONS...AND RADAR.

BASED ON 1200 UTC SURFACE ANALYSIS AND SATELLITE IMAGERY THROUGH
1715 UTC.

...TROPICAL WAVES...

A TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 20W/21W S OF 12N MOVING W 10 KT.
VISIBLE IMAGES SHOW A WELL DEFINED BUT BROAD AREA OF LOW-LEVEL
CYCLONIC TURNING CENTERED NEAR 6N. SCATTERED SHOWERS AND TSTMS
ARE MAINLY WITHIN 300 NM E OF THE AXIS S OF 8N.

A TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 52W S OF 10N MOVING W 10-15 KT. VISIBLE
IMAGERY REVEALS MODERATE LOW-LEVEL CYCLONIC TURNING ALONG THE
WAVE AXIS. HOWEVER...MOST OF ITS DEEP CLOUDINESS HAS BEEN
ABSORBED BY A HIGH AMPLITUDE UPPER TROUGH WHICH IS NOW E OF THE
WAVE.

TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 77W S OF 13N MOVING W 10-15 KT. THIS WAVE
IS MAINLY INLAND OVER W COLOMBIA. WHILE ONLY A WEAK SIGNATURE OF
THIS WAVE IS APPARENT ON SATELLITE IMAGERY...THE MIMIC TPW
ANIMATION DOES SHOW FAIRLY GOOD CONTINUITY OF THIS FEATURE. THIS
WAVE MAY BE ENHANCING CONVECTION OVER THE SW CARIBBEAN. SEE
CARIBBEAN DISCUSSION FOR MORE DETAILS.
486. smmcdavid
10:02 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
What's that little flare up I see Pat? Just more precip?
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309
485. atmoaggie
10:02 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This Model is Showing something ! In the Carrebien at least as a cat 1


Speaking of QPF bombs...dude that's a rain event. Not a low, no real wind, just instability and rain.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
484. Patrap
10:01 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
GOES-12 Imagery of the GOM, 3 Channels Link

Tropical Atlantic GOES-12 imagery,3 Channels also Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
483. Drakoen
10:01 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
482. CaneAddict 9:59 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
469. HurricaneSammy 9:52 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
I guess We Are not having any possible development soon ....

No one has Posted an outlook or picture for a while

Buddy, Go back a few pages, there's plenty of imagery. Also DO NOT take this offensive but whats with the random capitals?


You have a few random capitals too with the "G" and the "DO NOT".
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
482. CaneAddict
9:59 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
469. HurricaneSammy 9:52 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
I guess We Are not having any possible development soon ....

No one has Posted an outlook or picture for a while


Buddy, Go back a few pages, there's plenty of imagery. Also DO NOT take this offensive but whats with the random capitals?
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
481. StormJunkie
9:59 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
Here is a picture for you Sammy :~)

Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16872
480. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
9:58 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
pat come in pat
do you here me
it has begun over gom
pat you still there
lol
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54370
479. Cavin Rawlins
9:58 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
An impressive tropical wave is located just off the coast of West Africa. The wave lies under favorable upper winds and over warm sea surface temperatures. However, future development is not expected to occur because of dry air and unfavorable upper level winds ahead of this feature. This is the 6th wave of the season.

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
478. Patrap
9:57 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
..vary interesting SJ.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
477. Drakoen
9:57 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
475. Patrap 9:56 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
OMG!


LOL. Lets put up those shutters!!!
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
476. smmcdavid
9:57 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
Well, I'm not going to understand any of the model stuff until I have enough uninterupted time to watch the videos... and then I probably won't really get it until I play around with them. So, I'm useless for now.
Member Since: September 20, 2005 Posts: 31 Comments: 2309
475. Patrap
9:56 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
MM5 community model Link

Welcome to the Pennsylvania State University / National Center for Atmospheric Research numerical model home page

The PSU/NCAR mesoscale model (known as MM5) is a limited-area, nonhydrostatic, terrain-following sigma-coordinate model designed to simulate or predict mesoscale atmospheric circulation. The model is supported by several pre- and post-processing programs, which are referred to collectively as the MM5 modeling system. The MM5 modeling system software is mostly written in Fortran, and has been developed at Penn State and NCAR as a community mesoscale model with contributions from users worldwide.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
474. TEXASYANKEE43
9:56 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
Like da wig ,needs Powder though George.



haha I'll put a pic up one day when I got time
472. IKE
9:54 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
which has run through only 54 hrs. lol......
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
471. Patrap
9:54 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
GOM 120 Hour Water Surface Temperature Forecast Model,area specific. Link

GOM 60 Hour Wind Forecast Model Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
470. Drakoen
9:53 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
No one has posted a picture yet because we are waiting for the GFS 18z.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
469. HurricaneSammy
9:52 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
I guess We Are not having any possible development soon ....

No one has Posted an outlook or picture for a while
468. Patrap
9:51 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
Like da wig ,needs Powder though George.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128654
467. Drakoen
9:51 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
I'm not having any problems (knock on wood)
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
466. IKE
9:50 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
I'm not having any problems with my posts, yet....fingers crossed.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
465. TEXASYANKEE43
9:49 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
Im only a Hack blogger 4 months removed from a FEMA trailer.


And I'm George Washington!
464. CaneAddict
9:49 PM GMT on May 21, 2008
BLOG HAS FROZEN AGAIN!!!!!
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151

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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.