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91L no concern; more postcards from the AMS hurricane conference

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 1:12 PM GMT on April 18, 2012

I'm in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida this week, where the world's hurricane experts are gathered to attend the 30th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology of the American Meteorological Society. Most of the Hurricane Specialists from the National Hurricane Center are here, and they are keeping an eye on the waters a few hundred miles east of Bermuda, where an extratropical storm has cut off from the jet stream and is slowly acquiring tropical characteristics. This system was designated Invest 91L last night by NHC. Ocean temperatures are around 20°C (68°F) in the region, which is well below the 26°C usually needed for a tropical storm to form. Wind shear is a high 20 - 30 knots. Nevertheless, 91L has managed to develop a small amount of heavy thunderstorm activity near its center, and may continue to show more organization as it moves slowly southeastward over the next day or two. I give 91L a close to 0% chance of becoming a named storm in the next two days, and NHC seems to have stopped issuing new products for the system. By the end of the week, 91L should get picked up by a trough of low pressure and move off to the northeast. The storm is not a threat to any land areas.

Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Invest 91L. The island of Bermuda is seen at the left side of the image.

Global tropical cyclones and climate: current signal
Now, I'll summarize a few of the excellent talks given at this week's AMS hurricane conference. Dr. Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research talked about the impact of global warming on hurricane intensities. Using data beginning in 1975, the beginning of the satellite era, he showed that while the total number of hurricanes globally has decreased in recent years, the proportion of hurricanes that are of Category 4 - 5 intensity has increased by 40%. He showed that this change could be related to a 0.8°C increase in global temperature during the period. He concluded that when hurricanes form, they are finding that it is easier for them to reach higher intensities.

Sensitivity of the strongest hurricanes to ocean surface warmth
Dr. Jim Elsner of Florida State University showed that observations indicate a sensitivity of hurricane winds of 8.2 m/s +/- 1.19 per degree Centigrade of ocean warmth, using data in the Atlantic from 1981 - 2010 (for oceans areas warmer than 25°C.) Using a high resolution model (HiRAM) with 50 km resolution, a sensitivity of only 1.5 +/- .6 m/s was found, calling into question the usefulness of current models for assessing future hurricane activity.

How will climate change affect hurricane tracks?
Angela Colbert of the University of Miami used 17 global climate models, the BAM hurricane tracking model, and the Atlantic historical HURDAT data base to see how hurricane tracks might change in the future. She classified storms as either straight moving (which tend to hit the Caribbean or U.S. Gulf Coast), recurving landfalling (U.S. East Coast impacts), or recurving ocean storms that miss landfall. She projected a 6% increase in recurving ocean storms and an 8% decrease in straight-moving storms by the end of the century, due to climate change. A decrease of 1- 2 storms per decade is predicted for the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and an increase of 1 - 2 storms per decade in the waters of the mid-Atlantic, and along the East Coast of Florida. This occurs primarily because of an increase in westerly winds over the Central Atlantic, and to a lesser degree, an eastward change in genesis location closer to the coast of Africa. Both of these factors would tend to increase the number of recurving storms.

Jeff Masters


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