Climate's remote control on hurricanes

December 12, 2007
Climate's remote control on hurricanes
The multiple effects of warming oceans on hurricane intensity. Credit: NOAA, GFDL

Natural climate variations, which tend to involve localized changes in sea surface temperature, may have a larger effect on hurricane activity than the more uniform patterns of global warming, a report in this week's Nature suggests.

In the debate over the effect of global warming on hurricanes, it is generally assumed that warmer oceans provide a more favorable environment for hurricane development and intensification. However, several other factors, such as atmospheric temperature and moisture, also come into play.

Drs. Gabriel A. Vecchi of the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and Brian J. Soden from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science analyzed climate model projections and observational reconstructions to explore the relationship between changes in sea surface temperature and tropical cyclone 'potential intensity' - a measure that provides an upper limit on cyclone intensity.

They found that warmer oceans do not alone produce a more favorable environment for storms because the effect of remote warming can counter, and sometimes overwhelm, the effect of local surface warming. "Warming near the storm acts to increase the potential intensity of hurricanes, whereas warming away from the storms acts to decrease their potential intensity," Vecchi said.

Titled “Effect of Remote Sea Surface Temperature Change on Tropical Cyclone Potential Intensity,” their study found that long-term changes in potential intensity are more closely related to the regional pattern of warming than to local ocean temperature change. Regions that warm more than the tropical average are characterized by increased potential intensity, and vice versa. “A surprising result is that the current potential intensity for Atlantic hurricanes is about average, despite the record high temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean over the past decade.” Soden said. “This is due to the compensating warmth in other ocean basins.”

“As we try to understand the future changes in hurricane intensity, we must look beyond changes in Atlantic Ocean temperature. If the Atlantic warms more slowly than the rest of the tropical oceans, we would expect a decrease in the upper limit on hurricane intensity,” Vecchi added. “This is an interesting piece of the puzzle.”

“While these results challenge some current notions regarding the link between climate change and hurricane activity, they do not contradict the widespread scientific consensus on the reality of global warming,” Soden noted.

Source: University of Miami

Explore further: GPM gets a look at newborn, late season Eastern Pacific Tropical Storm Sandra

Related Stories

Seven case studies in carbon and climate

November 13, 2015

Every part of the mosaic of Earth's surface—ocean and land, Arctic and tropics, forest and grassland—absorbs and releases carbon in a different way. Wild-card events such as massive wildfires and drought complicate the ...

Declining snowpacks may cut many nations' water

November 12, 2015

Gradual melting of winter snow helps feed water to farms, cities and ecosystems across much of the world, but this resource may soon be critically imperiled. In a new study, scientists have identified snow-dependent drainage ...

Recommended for you

Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images

November 26, 2015

Frank Paul, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, has created animations from satellite images of the Karakoram mountain range in Asia to show how its glaciers flow and change. The images of four different ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.