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Hurricane scientists divided on global warming issue

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 4:15 AM GMT on April 27, 2006

Greetings from Monterey, California, where the 27th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society's conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology is taking place. It's been a feast of information for the 500-plus hurricane buffs here this week! I'm having trouble choosing between attending any of four simultaneous scientific talks offered--or catching up with old friends outside the sessions. Fortunately, the weather has been rather dreary, so I feel no guilt about being a troglodyte and hiding in dark rooms watching slides of awesome hurricanes of years gone by. There have been some fantastic talks, and I've learned an enormous amount of new information that I will share with you in blogs over the coming weeks.

There have been a number of sharp debates on the hurricane/global warming issue, and this controversy has really been difficult for the hurricane science community. There were some rather uncomfortable arguments between some of the scientists at talks on Monday, but a more civilized debate last night during a panel discussion featuring four of the experts who've published papers on the subject. The discussion lasted nearly three hours, and could have lasted much longer, as only about 20 of the 60 questions posed by the audience of over 300 were answered. I'll have a detailed look at what was said in a blog next week. Contrary to what one might expect from the headline of yesterday's CNN story from Reuters (Experts: Global warming behind 2005 hurricanes), hurricane experts at this conference are very divided about this issue. There is a lot of very confusing and conflicting information to consider, and the science is a long way from being settled.

My next blog from Monterey will be Friday morning, when I plan to discuss a radical hurricane modification proposal presented at the meeting. Is it feasible to tame the next Katrina with modern technology?

Jeff Masters

Climate Change

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Thank you your hard work!
Sorry should have been ....Thank You for your hard work.. Please keep it up. I have learned so much from your posts!
2nd! Thank you Dr. Masters. Very informative blogs!
I can't wait to read your upcoming entries!!
I am sure that cyclonebuster is going to be PO'ed when he hears that someone else wants to do what he want to do (weaken hurricanes)...
hey give the man credit, this is just a fraction of what he wants to do. He also wants to cure hunger, have world piece, no more tornados, and perfect weather everywhere.
But what he talks about is impossible (anybody will tell you that). How do you know that he is even a man? From what the stuff he says, he sounds more like a kid who has this idea that "I can save the world". Others have proved that his tunnels cannot work, much less produce enough electricity for the world, stop tornadoes, etc.
Posted By: michalp at 12:49 AM EDT on April 27, 2006.
hey give the man credit, this is just a fraction of what he wants to do. He also wants to cure hunger, have world piece, no more tornados, and perfect weather everywhere.

So, you are saying that you don't want these things?

I don't agree with some of his ideas (his tunnel idea to be specific)either. Regardless of your oppinion about his ideas, you should really show some respect. Only by showing respect do you make yourself a respectable person.
When I first looked at the sceduling for monday afternoon, it looked like a hurricane intensity / global warming train wreck in the making. Glad to hear it was eventually brought to a civil discussion. Look forward to more on the wreck, repairs & of course any conclusions.

Checking over tommarrow's choices, the prodictions against structure & large scale interactions. The RAINEX thing looks fun, but against ocean atmosphere? Reminds me of Bonnaroo~ always eaney, meaney, miney, mo for a last resort.
>>Regardless of your oppinion about his ideas,

Ha, regardless of anyone's opinion on his ideas the dude trolls and/or spams repeatedly.

>> So, you are saying that you don't want these things?

yeah, great strawman there.

>>you should really show some respect. Only by showing respect do you make yourself a respectable person.

Where'd you get that crap from, a fortune cookie?
I think that Mala in the North Indian Ocean may blow up - look at the nearly complete eye:

JTWC says 45 kts (rolls eyes)
SSD has a T number of 4.0, while CIMSS has 4.7 (which I think is more accurate).

People in its path better have warning now - North Indian storms have been the deadliest in the world (especially 1991 and 1970).
Glad to hear you're enjoying yourself, Doc! :D
Posted By: michalp at 1:35 AM EDT on April 27, 2006.
Where'd you get that crap from, a fortune cookie?

There you go again, disrespecting the opinion of others. I don't see why you consider this to be acceptable behavior.

I have no problem with you expressing your opinion, but to treat people like dirt just because you think they are stupid is beyond childish.

I am sorry if my comments have come across as disrespecting your opinions, but I am tired of of people treating others like crap.
That last line should be: I am sorry if my comments have come across as disrespecting you, or your opinions, but I am tired of people treating others like crap.
Anyway, I am going to bed now. I certainly hope that I don't wake up to hear about another monster storm out there.
Here is the latest cyclone phase analysis (CMC, GFS and UKMET ensembles). Notice how warm the SSTs are - it will be passing over water that is over 30 C in a day or so.

look to 20 W and you see a real warm water coming that way?

Jeff: Sounds like exciting stuff...and I think it is good that the opinions are mixed...no accepted doctrine makes for more sound scientific theories somewhere down the line. As to taming hurricanes (a la cloud seeding in the 50 and 60s)--it may be a good thing and maybe not be such a hot idea. I look at the history of taming nature (flooding of the Mississippi River, damming up the rivers of the west, channeling the Kissimmee River, etc...) and now most people would agree that most of these ideas were not the greatest to begin with...again, science is on the razor's edge!
Whatever louastu,

you turned some light hearted poking into some sort of thing about respect. This is quite the informal forum, and I find it funny that it got you wound up so tight. I feel sorry that your world is so sanitized that this sort of thing makes uneasy.

now back to the storm. So far it looks tame.
20. OGal
Changing the strength of a hurricane. What will it do to the rest of the weather? Didn't someone once say, "Don't mess with mother nature". I will be anxious to read your Friday blog.
any possible development???

I hope this link works, I uploaded it to photoshack so the sat image wouldn't update
oh, I'm looking the the southern carribean, off of south america
23. F5
Interesting proposition on trying to modify hurricanes (or weather in general). I'm sure cyclonebuster would have something to say about that.

However, in spite of the damage hurricanes do, they serve a useful purpose. They transfer heat from the tropics to the northern latitudes. Makes you wonder what the effects (short and long term) of such modification might be, assuming it were even possible.

The same holds true for any weather event. Yes, it would be nice not to deal with tornados, but if you destroy the storm, do you also destroy the rain it brings? What about upstream effects? Lots of thorny questions there.

24. Inyo
Yeah, i don't really trust weather modification either. It might be okay for say, knocking a landfalling storm a catergory or two... but even that will have effects elsewhere. If you suppress hurricanes in one area there are going to be way more elsewhere. And then there's the liability... what if the treatment somehow makes the hurricane worse or has some other unintended side effect? From my main understanding, thats why much less cloud seeding goes on these days - if you seed a cloud and a flash flood happens, you're in for a world of trouble even though the flash flood probably would have happened anyway.
and also, Inyo, think of all the "controlled burns" that have gone wrong lately....
Questions folks. These are not rhetorical questions to make some point, I seriously would like to know links or discrepancies in the thought process. I'm a chemical engineer, not an atmospheric expert.

Let's assume that global warming due to greenhouse gas accumulation is occurring. By definition, doesn't that infer that the temperature of the entire planet should be trending upward and not just isolated(albeit large) sections?

I think that the data says that Atlantic and Caribbean SST's are increasing. However, one school of thought says that this is due to natural cycles and they will cool in the not to distant future, much like the La Nina and El Nino cycles, just over a longer period. Is there any data to show trends in the El Nino and La Nina temperature cycles? In other words, are the SST's associated with these cycles increasing from their baseline values?

Sincere thanks for any response.
JTWC forecasts Mala to become a Category 4 cyclone within 48 hours.

Click for larger track map

It also appears that a pinhole eye has formed, assuming that it is actually an eye (it just appeared):
28. F5

I think that's a question that most climate scientists struggle to answer. Clearly, there are some mechanisms, such as NAO, ENSO, multi-decadal patterns, and many others as well. These patterns are only partially understood, although the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation is more predictable than ENSO, which seems to alternate between La Nina and El Nino on a more random basis, likely in response to one or more other factors that are not likely well understood either. The earth's climate is a chaotic system, although it clearly has a variety of response mechanisms in place to deal with these situations.

As for whether anthropogenic activitiy is a primary driver or essentially a non-factor is up for debate, depending on who you ask. Some say it's settled, although I have a much different opinion.

The bottom line is there are so many factors that interact and cause reactions that are not well understood or even known. So it doesn't necessarily follow that warming will be "global" in nature.
It would be great to have the option of some type of huricaine buster. Will you be providing more information on this shortly? Weaker storms, Cat1 or Cat2, do not concern us greatly in the Florida Keys but a devastating Cat 4 or 5 is a huge concern.

We also have a cyclone forming at 9S 92E:

It appears that we'll have two stong cyclones in the Indian Ocean within 48 H.
Dr Masters,
Thanks for the information; at least scientist are the like rest of us; half divided on this issue!

I think man needs to let nature go her natural course; like someone said above, everytime we try to make nature accomidate man, man eventually loses and in the long run we would have been better off to just get out of the way.

With Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Floods, fires, earthquakes, etc. all of these things, we need to live around them meeting their requirments..not try to tame them and make them go away because they will just show up as something worse later. There are good natural reasons for all of these disasters; remember they are only disasters to man, not to the nature course of things.

Did that come out the way I wanted it to???

From earlier:
Posted By: RL3AO at 11:23 AM EDT on April 27, 2006.
any possible development???

Tropical Weather Discussion 4/27 from NHC :
Debris Moisture="Trashy" Chance of Development

RL3AO, Good Job with Sat Pic Capture & UpLoad.
Thanks RL & ALL For Keeping Your Eyes Peeled...
"Let's assume that global warming due to greenhouse gas accumulation is occurring. By definition, doesn't that infer that the temperature of the entire planet should be trending upward and not just isolated(albeit large) sections?"

Not necessarily. Climate is an extremely complex system with lots of different feedback loops built in. It's entirely possible that parts of the world could cool (or stay the same) while the world overall gets warmer.
35. bojo

Nexrad radar for the southeast looks to me to have at least semi-tropical characterisitics:


I don't know a great deal about weather, but I have looked at the precipitation radar a lot, and I don't recall seeing this sort of pattern often except for a cyclone or its remnants. Is this unusual?
Hmmm... this has a slight chance of something developing near the East coast:

Click for larger image

More information here
37. bojo
The system is over land, nearing the coast, moving eastward.
Cyclone Mala is up to 80 kts/ 963 mb per satellite estimate. The core is clearly improving in organization, although there is still a bit of easterly shear.
Here's an article about a discussion at the conference Dr Masters is attending. The topic has come up about the conservative approach at times the NWS has show when it comes to what (for example) 120 mph winds can destroy. Mainly making the end result of the forcast entail what sort of damages one could expect, as well as enrolling local emergency workers to help convay it to the public.

This is good the topic is getting out in the open. It is a fine line at times to evacuate or prepare & not seem like crying wolf, particuliarly with our forecasting skills & the fickle nature of weather. At times though, some forecasts seem understated considering the sattilite, models, atmosphere & what not & after Katrina the move to remove forecaster's personal observations from warning was disturbing. Seems a little more authority has been put in the hand of the forecaster when a serious threat might be lurking on the horizon.

Seems the global warming/intense hurricane debate has really overrun the confrence~ it's breifly mentioned at the end of the article.
F5 and rwdobson,

Thanks for the replies and I accept that the feedback response system could provide some variability.

It seems that one side or the other of the global warming debate tend to reference the portions of the earth that "most" neatly fit their argument. For example, some folks appear(repeat, appear) to be using the 2005 hurricane season and the recent strong Australian storm as the key final piece of their "it's definitely greenhouse gas induced global warming" argument. Others say that parts of the world are definitely cooling and that the current SST's will subside to more of their historic mean values(i.e. these are naturally cyclic). Therefore, there is no way that global warming could be occurring in a non-natural manner.

That is why I was also asking about the La Nina and El Nino cycle temperatures. These are definitely shorter term cycles and everyone seems to accept these phenomena without debate. Does anyone know whether the temps associated with each cycle have increased in line with the temps in the other oceans or otherwise? If these are also increasing, then I guess that would be more evidence for the pro-GW school. If not, then the anti GW folks are probably pretty happy.

Again, sincere thanks for the replies.
Pinhole eye alert*** - 4:00 PM EDT

Mala develops a 5 mile wide eye based on MIMIC imagery and infrared satellite data.
swlaggie--Forecaster Colby did an interesting thing where he overlayed several cycles, each with differing lengths and amplitudes, and generated a very interesting pattern of temperature. It's amazing what seemingly chaotic patterns can arise out of several predictable patters being lain on top of each other.

the short answer is, it's really hard to separate these cycles from the human influences...
I would always be hesitant to mess with a hurricane. They are after all, a big heat pump. So we weaken them and what should happen, shouldn't the sea stay warmer, allowing for an even stronger storm, that we tame to nothing, again allowing the waters to warm more, and so on.

Honestly, I think we need to stop messing with nature as much as possible. Even though I believe that most Global warming is natural and that we do indeed add to it, we need to stop trying to control the weather, and live with what we have. Hurricanes form for a reason, and killing them off, more than likely would have repercussions that we have yet to forsee.

So even if this technology could take HUGE amount of energy and some how weaken it, the overall affect is that energy would have to go someplace, and that would be back to the sea, where evenutally the water would be warm enough that nothing we could do would stop it...

Just think about that for a minute. Imagine being able to stop EVERY hurricane and TS last year. The release an incredible amount of energy, do you think the waters would just cool naturally and go about there merry way, or would something eventually form and become very strong to the likes we have never seen?

We are modifying the environment already, enough is enough. Hurricanes are not the problem, the people who live on the coast are.

Don't mess with mother nature, because we all know mother nature always has the last laugh.

-Ryan (SODQ)
Mala is gonna be a bad girl, I think. If the shear drops off, she could easily get up around 120-130kt - and in that part of the world...:(
Anyone care to comment on the congressional committee report today that recommended the break-up of FEMA?
SODQ : Have to agree. Look what happened when, after years of zero tolerance for fire in the west, nature came back with a vengeance. Yellowstone fires from 199?.
No, but I think we'd be better off with a FEMA committee report recommending the breakup of congress.
49. Inyo
Posted By: rwdobson at 5:34 PM GMT on April 27, 2006.
and also, Inyo, think of all the "controlled burns" that have gone wrong lately....

Hmm, I haven't heard of too many going wrong lately in the West, and i work around a lot of firefighters. However, there have been a few big ones.

The main problem is that controlled burns are our attempt to fix one of our other problems - over the last 100 years we've been putting out the small fires that naturally occur in some areas, such as ponderosa pine forests. In this case, the fuel has built up to huge levels, and very flammable trees such as White Fir have invaded these stands. Normally, the low intensity fires would burn off the debris and the white fir but not kill the ponderosa pine. Now, huge fires are coming through and killing EVERYTHING, partially beacuse the trees are too dense, making them more vulnerable to drought and fire. So, in some cases people are trying to thin out the forests and/or run fires in less extreme situations, to reduce the fuel load. It is indeed controversial but its not exactly an attempt to 'control' nature so much as put it back how it was.

I know this is off topic but since i am a botanist, i felt i had something to add about it.
it is reported that FEMA will be abolish
I am very opposed to messing around with hurricanes. Let nature be, and let us adjust to it as much as possible. Who knows what side-effects we would be creating? I wonder how much weather control is already being done?
Holy pinhole, Batman!

Getting rid of FEMA is just another way to cut government.

Yes they failed but they should have learned from there mistakes. They where underfunded to start off with. I bleave it could be saved.
Dumb comment, I guess, but if we could dump ice in the hurricane as it it forms, the water would not continue to heat up, right? Left alone to form and destroy lives, hurricanes churn up cooler water presumably dissuading further hurricanes from forming. But so would the mega amounts of ice it would take to chill out potential storms.

The area near the east coast is getting bigger.
Hurrycane - The world doesn't have enough ice nor could it make enough ice to make a minute difference in even one small hurricane.
Sorry about the size.
What's it's category
I agree with not messing with Mother Nature. We have to ride this out. Its a cycle. Have we helped it?...probably...more than likely I would say. But people keep doing the same thing, and it just gets my goat every time I read some of these blogs. The doomsayers continue to harp on global warming/climate change. Hey!...guess what? Hurricanes, Typhoons, Cyclones are all hapening in the Tropics. Wikipedia describes the tropics .

It snows in Hawaii! Is that a sign of global warming? But Wikipedia describes the tropics as "torrid". That would mean "hot". But ww (collectively speaking) continue to focus on our own few little points in the world. And conveniently disregard the parts of the world that are seeing record cold temperatures. Now, if we go messing with things, tell me what will happen. True, we might be able to lessen the effects of OUR storms on the gulf coast or the florida peninsula or Australia....but will someone like Snowboy never be able to leave his house in Canada because of frigid temps? That's my argument. We MAY change the intensity in our little section of the Earth...but what wil we do to the rest of the world?
Snowman, she's 80kt right now according to NRL, still cat 1.
Does anyone else think this is rediculous?

While you're paying record gas prices at the pump, the world's largest oil company is making a huge profit. Exxon-Mobil reported first quarter earnings Thursday. The company says profits went up seven percent from last year. That translates to an income of $8.4 billion for the first quarter.
Well, tonight is the first night of the rest of my life. I can't really explain, but I am not the person I was three hours ago.

I'm a little concerned about Mala. The population density of Bangladesh is 10,000 time that of Northern Territory, Australia where Monica came ashore:

Exxon-Mobile isn't the largest, IIRC -- probably not even in the top 10. It's the largest PUBLICALLY TRADED company. The really big ones are nationally owned and you know nothing about their financials. They're supporting regimes without your best interests at heart, and looking long-term far beyond Exxon to control remaining reserves.

It's fun to complain about Exxon, but it would be just as easy to buy a few shares to hedge your gas tank and worry about bigger issues.

Mala is looking pretty good on IR.
I got that information off of a local news station website. The story is actually about an ethanol plant they are going to be building in Indiana.

Here is a link to that story.
Colby - Either you just found out that you have an incurable disease, or you just found out that your going to be a father. So...which is it? The latter I hope.

I was thinking the same thing until I checked this:

Look at all of that easterly shear!
OR....your wife wants a divorce because you spend more time with us than you do with her.......... C...O...L...B...YYYYYY. Do tell friend. What you wrote didn't sound encouraging.
Neither. Allow me to give a brief explanation. This will sound stupid to some of you.

From the time I was introduced to video gaming at age 5, I've been rather compulsive about it. For ten years now [roughly 2/3 of my life], I've averaged 4-5 hours of play a day, and for the last four years, more like 8+. I realized tonight that despite that (and this is not blowing my own horn), I am still smarter than 98% of the American population, scored a 2030 on my SAT - while sick, and without studying, as a sophmore, and can generally find any piece of information I need. I've spent probably an average of 15-20 active minutes a day on learning for the last four years, and before that I may have paid attention in school, but I didn't do a whole lot else. So tonight, I realized something - what if those 15-20 minutes were 8 hours? I took a long walk to solidify the thought in my mind, set up some mental anchors, returned home, snapped every game disk I own and wiped half my hard drive. I hold no illusions - I was addicted, as much as any alchoholic or druggie might be. Tonight, that ended, and will not return. So in essence, Scott, I realized that the uncurable disease I've had for a decade is curable, and cured it.
Uhh, atmos:

That's the algorithm being stupid and missing the eye completely. Shear is almost zero.

Wow Colby that's great. 2030 is a great score (mine is only 50 points better and I'm a junior). I think 2300 is possible if you spent just an hour more than you do. I am happy for you that you have decided to focus on learning. You are extremely smart and you will only learn more this way.
Oh and I thought it was that Colby wasnt a virgin anymore..My bad...
And that's why I don't score 2400. Well pointed out Colby. It is indeed another idiotic mistake by the AODT. I never thought to actually look at the shear map LOL :)
Well in that case she is rapidly deepening. Her appearance has doubled in attractiveness over the last 4 hours.
The only thing I see wrong with her is that her cloud pattern is elongated and tilted NE to SW. That indicates just a little bit of easterly trade wind up in the upper levels. If she sorts that out then a Category 4 or 5 cyclone is not out of the question as SSTs are very warm and heat content is excellent.
I am glad to know that I wasn't wrong about her looking good on IR. I was feeling kind of stupid for a minute there.

P.S. I just realized that I have no idea where to find a shear map for that part of the world, and am feeling a little stupid once again.
Hey Rich I will be busy the rest of the night nice talking to you! I will see you tomorrow!
Yeah she does look good louastu. I feel stupid for failing to look at the shear map and assuming the stupid algorithm was right.
Nice talking to you too Levi! I hope to talk with you tomorrow. Have a great night :)
Thanks Rich you have a great night too. Good night.
smart man, Colby. But more importantly...intelligent man for seeing a flaw and doing something about it. I was addicted for many years...to alcohol. Not like a fall down drunk but just addicted to drinking every night. And it limited my capacity. Then one night I took a look at my kids and realized that they don't deserve it...looked in the mirror and realized that I'm better than this....and haven't touched it for about 6 years now. Its a good feeling to know you have control over your life.
There are two things I am addicted to in this world. They are Coca-Cola, and the weather. I love both and will never give them up, even if they end up killing me.
As far as Global Warming. I see this as a situation that we have identified both as a problem with consequences, and the fact that we can fix the problem with enough effort. The fact that we as a people were able to identify a problem such as the Coral Floral Carbons which tore a hole much bigger than we had originally thought in the Ozone, and were able to reverse the problem almost entirely shows that we as humans can now alter something as expansive as our atmosphere which affects every action we make.

The aformentioned problem was solved with rather little effort but took activism to get it done. Now, the human race is faced with yet another situation which possibly could have results even more dire than killing the Ozone.

We as a people have raised the concentration of C02 in the atmosphere over many decades and as far back as the 1940s-1950s identified the releasing of c02 to have effects on the weather and climate in general. The fact that we were lucky enough to identify the problem as soon as we did is a miracle in itself.

Now, if we raised the c02 concentration in the atsmosphere which has tilted the original balance that was in place, than the resulting lowering of the c02 concentration in the atmosphere would help to stabalize that original balance.
Posted By: Trouper415 at 3:39 AM GMT on April 28, 2006.
The fact that we as a people were able to identify a problem such as the Coral Floral Carbons which tore a hole much bigger than we had originally thought in the Ozone, and were able to reverse the problem almost entirely shows that we as humans can now alter something as expansive as our atmosphere which affects every action we make.

I was not aware that this supposed problem had been resolved. I would like to where you are getting that information from?

I am also not convinced that humans are responsible for the ozone "hole". I would expect that if CFC's were the sole cause of ozone thinning, that the thinning would take place over a larger area, especially over the countries who were producing CFC's, and not in an area that is uninhabited.

The so called hole was discovered in the 70's. That does not mean it did not exist before that time, and I think it is possible that it has existed for centuries.
Ozone is formed by the action of ultraviolet light on oxygen. In the absence of light, it doesn't form. Since it's dark six months of the year in Antactica, perhaps this explains the ozone "hole." The same phenomenon occurs to a lesser extent during the arctic winter--probably for the same reason.

Just because a researcher discovered an inverse relationship between O3 and chlorine oxide concentrations in the antarctic stratosphere, doesn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship. A more likely explanation is darkness.
congrats Colby! but please don't break the WU addiction - your expertise is needed and appreciated here..
Colby went tooooo far. Shouldn't have broken the disc's but sold them on e-bay and made a little cash....

:) That way you can reward yourself for breaking your addiction.