Global Warming Fueled Record 2005 Hurricane Season Conclude Scientists
National Center for Atmospheric Research
June 22, 2006
Global warming accounted for around half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005, while natural cycles were only a minor factor, according to a new analysis by Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The study will appear in the June 27 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union.
The study contradicts recent claims that natural cycles are responsible for the upturn in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995. It also adds support to the premise that hurricane seasons will become more active as global temperatures rise. Last year produced a record 28 tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma all reached Category 5 strength.
Trenberth and Shea's research focuses on an increase in ocean temperatures. During much of last year's hurricane season, sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic between 10 and 20 degrees north, which is where many Atlantic hurricanes originate, were a record 1.7 degrees F above the 1901-1970 average. While researchers agree that the warming waters fueled hurricane intensity, they have been uncertain whether Atlantic waters have heated up because of a natural, decades-long cycle, or because of global warming.
Hurricanes Ophelia, Nate, and Maria were among 15 hurricanes that raged across the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean in 2005. (Image by NASA-GSFC, data from NOAA GOES.)
Birthplace of hurricanes heating up say NOAA scientists
The region of the tropical Atlantic where many hurricanes originate has warmed by several tenths of a degree Celsius over the 20th century, and new climate model simulations suggest that human activity, such as increasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, may contribute significantly to this warming. This new finding is one of several conclusions reported in a study by scientists at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., published today in the Journal of Climate.
Global warming causing stronger hurricanes confirms study
The link between warmer ocean temperatures and increasing intensity of hurricanes has been confirmed by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Last year, two studies published in the journals Nature and Science found a strong correlation between rising tropical sea surface temperatures and an increase in the strength of hurricanes.
US denies hurricane link with climate change: Harlan Watson, chief climate control negotiator for the U.S. State Department, told the Associated Press that the Bush administration does not blame global warming or climate change for extreme weather -- including the hurricanes that thrashed the Gulf earlier this year. "There's a difference between climate and extreme weather," Watson said. "Our scientists continually tell us we cannot blame any single extreme event, attribute that to climate change."
2005 Atlantic hurricane season worst on record: The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season is the busiest on record and extends the active hurricane cycle that began in 1995 — a trend likely to continue for years to come. The season included 26 named storms, including 13 hurricanes in which seven were major (Category 3 or higher).
Number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes has doubled over 35 years: The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, even though the total number of hurricanes has dropped since the 1990s, according to a study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The shift occurred as global sea surface temperatures have increased over the same period. The research appears in the September 16 issue of Science.
Hurricanes getting stronger due to global warming says study: Late last month an atmospheric scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study in Nature that found hurricanes have grown significantly more powerful and destructive over the past three decades. Kerry Emanuel, the author of the study, warns that since hurricanes depend on warm water to form and build, global climate change might increase the effect of hurricanes still further in coming years.
Hurricane Katrina damage just a dose of what's to come: The kind of devastation seen on the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina may be a small taste of what is to come if emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2 ) are not diminished soon, warns Dr. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology in his opening remarks at the 7th International Carbon Dioxide Conference in Boulder, Colorado, September 26, 2005. If current trends continue, some 5 trillion tons of carbon is expected to be spewed into the atmosphere over the next three centuries from human fossil-fuel burning. It will have serious consequences by warming the planet on average between 7 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit and turning the oceans acidic.
Hurricane could hit San Diego: San Diego has been hit by hurricanes in the past and may be affected by such storms in the future according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While a hurricane in San Diego would likely produce significantly less damage than Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, it could still exact a high cost to Southern California especially if the region was caught off guard.
Previous studies have attributed the warming and cooling patterns of North Atlantic ocean temperatures in the 20th century—and associated hurricane activity—to the AMO. But Trenberth, suspecting that global warming was also playing a role, looked beyond the Atlantic to temperature patterns throughout Earth's tropical and midlatitude waters. He subtracted the global trend from the irregular Atlantic temperatures—in effect, separating global warming from the Atlantic natural cycle. The results show that the AMO is actually much weaker now than it was in the 1950s, when Atlantic hurricanes were also quite active. However, the AMO did contribute to the lull in hurricane activity from about 1970 to 1990 in the Atlantic.
Global warming does not guarantee that each year will set records for hurricanes, according to Trenberth. He notes that last year's activity was related to very favorable upper-level winds as well as the extremely warm SSTs. Each year will bring ups and downs in tropical Atlantic SSTs due to natural variations, such as the presence or absence of El Nino, says Trenberth. However, he adds, the long-term ocean warming should raise the baseline of hurricane activity.
This article is a modified news release from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
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