By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:33 PM GMT on July 24, 2007

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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140. Drakoen
3:41 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
the last TWC tropical update said there was a low associated with that system that just came of Africa. Said it was a "vigorous wave".
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139. Inyo
3:30 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: TPAweatherguy at 3:27 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.
The epac was forecasted to have below average tropical activity this year, and the atlantic well above average. I know the atlantic is running about average, but the epac sure hasn't been slow. Any thoughts?

Despite La Nina, the water directly in and around the EPAC hurricane formation area is well warmer than average. This may be part of it... that water continues to warm so I think despite La Nina, the EPAC season will be at or above average levels this season.
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138. PatienceBAvirtue
3:40 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
While evacuation might seem the safest option, it isn't always practical or even possible. Emergency workers, utility employees, medical personnel, and other necessary individuals are often prohibited (by their employers) from leaving. Should they run from a storm that "might" hit them at the risk of their career? Also take into account those people who are physically unable to travel. My stepfather is paraplegic and was unable to find a hotel within 12 hours travel that could accommodate his needs during Ivan or Katrina. And the shelters don't have adequate facilities either.
Yes, evacuation is an effective tool to save lives, but please don't mistake inability for unwillingness. Personally, I am unwilling to leave those I love behind in a storm to spend money I don't have at a hotel 3 states away. Instead, my family has created a plan to horde supplies, contact each other and people on the "outside", and stay as safe as possible.
As for humanity, essentially, we behave like rats. Lots of panic, short memories, and lax planning. Unfortunately, that's just the way it works.
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3:22 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
I used to take SciAm, but they got a little too $$ proud of it.

Stronger Hurricanes - Just add more rum.

I thought the same thing. I posted in June I thought we might see something akin to 1988, still do. Thought I saw similarities in patterns but lost the links so not much evidence (lazy) to back it up. Gilbert was one of those Extracanes & SSTs are up down there.

I know it's been beaten up in GW discussions, but rehashing - On the one hand it seems obvious that a heat engine with more heat should run better, but it is really a temperature difference that releases the energy - if the surroundings are also warmer, then the difference hasn't changed. Q: Has hurricane's ability to shed the heat they take in been changed by the factors considered to influence GW?

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136. gthsii
3:37 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
If the Pacific is less active then... you can guess (worldwide activity is usually pretty constant so one basin takes up the slack).

Yikes...gives me the chills to think about it.
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134. gthsii
3:24 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
TCC: use MS Paint or Photoshop ar any other image editing program to add text, arrows, selection areas, etc.
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132. FloridaRick
3:25 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
You should very seriously consider working with your local emergency manager to determine when you should evacuate. Here in my region of Florida I work closely with the hospital's safety folks along with the local health department and the emergency manager in determining the adivce that should be given. Many times it is very difficult to make that decision and when there are possible adverse outcomes due to the health of a patient that makes it even more difficult. If there is one thing that you should know and that you probably already have heard it is "Run from water, Hide From wind" Being that you are in the Tampa area, you should definately get with your County Emergency Management Agency and possibly your local Health Department Emergency Preparedness Planner and see if they can assist you in developing some evacuation triggers.
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131. wederwatcher555
3:31 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
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128. emagirl
3:26 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
well i work in emergency management in my county......and everyone keeps telling me i am hoping for a storm...i cant seem to explain to them i am not but if it does happen i want myself,my office, and my county to be prepared....some people just dont understand that though.
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125. weathers4me
3:20 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Tampa, Miami, both well over due. Not wishcasting but it is just a matter of time that we get a situation like Katrina (huge loss of life and property) given the exponential continued development along the coasts. I hope with a slow season last year, emerg. mgt and residents are not caught sleeping this year.
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124. emagirl
3:20 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
well i do think we will have something this year.......i have stocked my shelves,got my plywood, and generator is ready...everyone thinks i am crazy but i would rather be prepared for nothing than not be ready if i need it..............
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121. wederwatcher555
3:16 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
this from accuweather:

"Both the GFS and NAM are suggesting that low pressure develops near the western Yucatan and moves north to the Texas Coast. Now this could be a a situation where the models are jumping on the development of a system or it could be false. Consider this first. There is an old front sitting in the Gulf. The upper level ridge is going to form over Texas, and that will allow the low to try and develop under it and provide goo ventillation. There is evidence of thunderstorms developing off the west coast of the Yucatan which could be the seeding of the low pressure system. While this is probably a long shot, it's something that we need to watch carefully..."
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120. stormy3
3:13 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Texascanecaster1: Thank for responding to my concerns, work on the northeast edge of Tampa and from what i hear Tampa is way over do for some kind of event to occur.
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119. MisterPerfect
3:06 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
The "SciAmicane" is about the same size as the Saturnicane--5000 miles across.

Great Post Dr. M. !! I love this type of science! About the Saturnicane...its the only hurricance-like vortex in the solar system that continually spins on its planet's pole. As far as I know, every other storm, whether its Earth, Jupiter, Neptune, etc has vortex activity above or below the planet's bulging equator. Except for Saturn. Neat huh?
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118. gthsii
3:07 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
tcc1: that pic was from almost 24 hours ago, since then it has dried up a bit. the train keeps pulsing, dont know if that is good or bad...but it certainly does resemble 2004-2005 more so than 2006.
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115. Chicklit
3:04 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
I saw that Ike & also somebody recently posted a track that keeps the clouds over water...Nasty spot there this time of year.
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114. weathers4me
3:00 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
stormy2day. I totally agree with you. I guess with a wife and 2 small kids, that is not an option for me. Now I have shutters and are build well above flood stage and do not want to risk the crazy drivers and traffic. If you follow the weather like we do here then at least we have that going for us. The wife wants to leave, I leave.
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113. moonlightcowboy
3:03 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Posted By: Stormy2day at 2:57 PM GMT on July 24, 2007.
...To me, what Cat rating a storm has doesn't give all the info one needs to make the best decision. A tropical storm with the right speed and angle could put water in my house ...

Very well put, Stormy2! One should/must have a plan!
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112. stormy3
2:42 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Hi all. Rarely post but thought I would throw my 2 cents in. I work in a medical facility and recently we were told that our building would stand up to a Cat 3. Does anyone know how they test for that? Many of our patients are critically ill and I guess they figure that moving these patients would be more dangerous to their health than riding the storm out. I disagree but without data to support that feeling I guess that's what we will end up doing. I'll be on the first team to ride out the storm and will be releaved by the second team when storm is over. If anyone can provide data that shows even a building with a Cat3 rating is not entirely safe plese provide link.
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111. Chicklit
3:02 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
1036 AM EDT TUE JUL 24 2007




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109. IKE
9:59 AM CDT on July 24, 2007
There's lots of rain in the NE GOM and that moisture down by Belize appears to be moving NNW toward the Yucatan.
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108. tampaskywatcher
2:57 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
could be wrong but if low in north gulf was more over water could be looking @ development as it is looks like a soaker over florida today
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106. Boatofacar
2:57 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Chicklit...itsa gonna rain!!!!!
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105. Stormy2day
2:55 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
There have been times when I have hidden in my house from the megaphone announcers telling me i'm in a mandatory evacuation zone and must leave. I wouldn't suggest that as an option to someone in the same situation but, at the time, the evacuation had been determined 24 hours before, the plan put in motion and by the time the megaphone people arrived the situation was no longer the same and there was no threat. I don't have a death wish but I pay attention to all the variables.

I know that my house will sustain more wind then my planned evacuation site. I know the bigger threat to me and my home is storm surge. I know exactly how many feet of surge +/- tide that I can take before I have water in my house. I listen to the local authorities AND weigh that with what I know. If the danger is wind, I'm not going to evacuate to a location that has a greater chance of wind damage then where I am...

To me, what Cat rating a storm has doesn't give all the info one needs to make the best decision. A tropical storm with the right speed and angle could put water in my house ...
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104. Chicklit
2:55 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
What the heck is going to happen in Central Florida this afternoon?
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103. gthsii
2:36 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
To the experienced people here: Take a look at the pic below...I highlighted in yellow highlight the area where we typically see CV storms (e.g. the train) exiting Africa. In green I highlighted where the "train" seems to be right now...it has moved quite a bit south. The arrows are my indication of general westwardly track. It seems to have moved almost 10 degrees south. Is this typical?

meteosat picture

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102. weathers4me
2:45 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
I recall Elena also. That storm proved that it all matters on there they make landfall. If that storm would have come ashore where she was (just North of Tampa). That would have been one we would still be talking about. Which proves another point. If you live in an evac zone you need to leave. I'm not saying go out of state. Get a hotel or stay w someone near by so you can get back to your house before the looters do, but get out of the flood danger. Charley proved that these Gulf storms are hard to predict the exact landfall. We were caught w our pants down for Charley. We now have a plan.
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101. Business
2:48 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
its like, unless you're under a constant or looming threat, then simply put, there is no threat. no preparation. no concern.

what i find ridiculous is that people along the coast find it such an inconvenience to deal with tropical storms and hurricanes. i suppose people that live in earthquake zones with houses on stilts on the side of the mountain feel the same when the ground starts to shake.

hell, i live inland (winter garden) and i know my floodzones, escape routes, and everything else. btw, i would leave for a more secure building if a cat3 was making its way to me: my townhome isn't as sturdy as the house i was in previously. i can definitely see this place losing its roof :(
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100. Patrap
9:40 AM CDT on July 24, 2007
Thats a wonderful observation FloridaRick..I would like to hear or have a transcript of one of those lectures if ya could.I collect and archive that kinda info.Just drop me a wu-mail if ya can..Been good talk.

Im off to go see the Pharmacist,ack!
Yall have a good day!
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99. Stormy2day
2:36 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Pat, I had only been in Florida for 3 years and Elena was my first "tropical" experience. To date, Elena still tops my list of most fearful times in my life. She sat out there, teasing and beating the crap out of us.

Elena is the hurricane I remind myself of any time I'm trying to justify that I don't need to worry because "it isn't heading for me" ...
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97. benirica
2:38 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Government officials can truly only do so much... there comes a point that stubborn people will stay behind and serious things will happen to them, in which case a few brave souls have to go rescue them and risk their lives. These people have families too and they shouldnt have to go out and rescue someone who had a chance to get out (shouldnt let them die either, but you get it).
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96. CaicosRetiredSailor
10:36 AM EDT on July 24, 2007
Good to see you here this morn....
Yes about hearing approaching far side of eye... I was outside in eye of Kate here in 85, could hear other side coming. Most memorable was going in and watching (by candle light) the needle on my barometer moving up without anyone tapping it.... I could watch it move, and that was only a Cat 1.
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95. Patrap
9:38 AM CDT on July 24, 2007
But we will never forget it took the Feds 5 days to even find New Orleans Saint.And to be sure,THAT leadership is going to be replaced..thankfully.

And no respect is offered to Him..or his admin.
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94. FloridaRick
2:28 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
I agree whole heartedly with personal responsibility. I have given a couple of personal preparedness lectures to county agencies from the region I service, and the first thing I tell them is that it is their responsibility to protect themselves and their families, and as a responder it becomes my responsibility when their don't take their responsibility seriously. I have responded to all storms since Charley in 04, from Rita passing the Keys to Katrina in Hancock County Miss. The most rewording responses were in locations where people had a sense of personal responsibility and were willing to assist in their own response and recovery efforts. THe toughest are responding to areas that the government is expected to do everything for everyone.
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93. benirica
2:32 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
lol Patrap, reminds me of Georges back in 1998 here in PR... in the eye I had to go and take the dog out to do her stuff and since I live up on a hill where you can see down to the ocean I could just see a wall comming and everything disappear behind it. I honestly just missed getting caught in the backside of the eye while walking the dog.
I'll tell you, that backside of the eye is sincerely the WORST part of the entire hurricane! (besides no power for almost a month)
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92. Patrap
9:36 AM CDT on July 24, 2007
Wonderful...best of luck to Miss.We may relocate their if things work out.
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91. moonlightcowboy
2:33 PM GMT on July 24, 2007
Sailor, I'll try to find it later today and repost it.

...gotta go chase some dollar bills everyone. Hold the fort down and keep the doors closed!

Have a good day!
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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