Blowhards! How Hot Water is Changing Hurricanes and Warnings

December 10, 2012

Credit: NASA
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Being in hot water is really bad for lobsters, but it is great for tropical storms!

Hurricanes are fueled by the energy from hot water. This means the current trend of the Northern Atlantic Ocean growing warmer is creating more strong hurricanes, weird subtropical storms and flooding extratropical storms like Sandy! Officials are scrambling to figure out how to warn and prepare people adequately for the new era of storms.

The National Hurricane Center is designing newer and better warnings for surge damage. Source: NOAA

What has happened is that the Atlantic is in a natural warming pattern, called the warm phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (what a mouthful!) or AMO. After 35 years of a cool AMO, it switched to warm in 1995. This warm phase will probably last at least 20 more years. Yikes!

Unfortunately, most of the science and warning systems were designed when the Atlantic was cool. The hotter waters produce different storm conditions than cooler water. The storms started changing in 1995 and the science is scrambling to catch up.

How subtropical storms are born. Source: Browning Newsletter

Subtropical storms − Sometimes a cold front will drift off the coast, hit hot waters and turn into a subtropical storm. The bottom of the storm turns into a dangerous tropical storm while the top is still a cold front. These used to be rare, now they are more common. Finally, in 2002, the National Hurricane Center started naming these storms and issuing storm warnings.

Hidden hurricanes − Other times, hurricanes can get caught up in a cold front. Think of them as hidden hurricanes. They look like cooler extratropical (no longer tropical) storms, but they create fiercer rains and snows and more floods. Like the Perfect Storm or Hurricane Sandy, they are deadly. However, once a storm stopped being tropical the National Hurricane Center stopped reporting on it. Information became scattered. There were no hurricane warnings posted north of North Carolina for Sandy! 

Hurricane Sandy merging with a cold front. Source NASA

Last week, the National Hurricane Center announced changes in their warning systems. They will continue to issue warnings on a storm until it hits land, even if it becomes extratropical. They will warn people how deep storm surges will be and where they will hit. (Surges can flood areas even 50 miles inland.) Information will become clearer, timelier, and more centralized.

A warmer Atlantic is marvelous for swimming, but science and coastal cities must cope with the fact that hotter water can be dangerous. Just ask a lobster!


Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, blogger, writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac, and editor of The Browning Newsletter, has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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Comments

This has been a very lousy

By Bobbi Anne S.

This has been a very lousy weather year. 1st event- Fourth warmerst winter on record
2nd event- Flowers in February
3rd event- Tornadoes in the wintertime
4th event- Warmerst March on record
5th event- March 2012 was a sign of whats to come in the spring, damaging storms and ridiculous warmth
6th event- Tropical storms brewing in May
7th event- Derecho in June, loss of power for 2 weeks
8th event- Hottest July EVER recorded in history. A very historic scorching summer
9th- Hurricane Sandy slammed the mid atlantic & northeast residents. Lives were changed
10th- Ongoing and worsening drought in the US in November and December
11th- Snow drought records broken. 2012's warmth continues and so does the next winter that isnt takes its toll.
Pheww!! Lol! Wacky wacky weather year. Not only was it the hurricanes, everything was weird this year. I blame the hot water

Here in central Virginia I

By Brenda Lynn

Here in central Virginia I remember the weatherman saying "Its unlikely this storm will make it this far north" that was when they had it trending out to sea. Then as it moved up the Atlantic it bypassed the Outer Banks and curved just north of us. It would be different if it were August or September but it was the end of October. I always thought the waters in the mid atlantic were cooling down quicker than say the Gulf would (using examples) so they couldnt support storm activity. The effects of the storm were massive! New York and New Jersey was flooded and here we had winds of 80 mph that actually uprooted one of my trees!! The old trampoline was thrown into my backyard, and the roaring winds and scary sounds kept me up that whole night and schools were cancelled for 2 days. We lost power for a little while and the bridges were closed due to dangerously high water levels. It somehow reminds me of Camille back in the 1960s as that one collided with a system as well.

Before the Atlantic became

By Evelyn Browning...

Before the Atlantic became this hot, you would have been right about an end-of-October storm.

Thank you for sharing what happened in Virginia. I hope more readers can tell us their Sandy experiences.

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