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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 09/16/2008

Stormy Science: Hurricanes and Climate Change

By Andrew Freedman

The recent string of tropical cyclones that have struck the United States has showcased the nation's vulnerability to nature's most powerful storms. Last week Hurricane Ike nearly played out as a worst-case scenario for Galveston and Houston, Texas, and New Orleans was scared anew from Hurricane Gustav prior to that. In the future, those cities may be at even greater risk of damage from hurricanes, in part because of climate change.

Researchers have been focusing a great deal of attention lately on how warming may affect hurricanes. They've been asking questions such as: will storms become more frequent and/or more intense? And how will sea level rise factor into the equation?

Earlier in the 2008 hurricane season I sat down with two of the leading experts on the hurricanes and climate change issue, Tom Knutson of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), and Kerry Emanuel of MIT.

In this video story from those interviews, they provide a detailed overview of the latest research and offer advice to policymakers regarding development in hurricane-prone regions.

The video was produced by Climate Central, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization based in Princeton, New Jersey, that works to communicate climate science information to the public.

For the local weather outlook through the weekend, see our full forecast. See also NatCast and UnitedCast for tonight's games.

By Andrew Freedman  | September 16, 2008; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, News & Notes, Science, Tropical Weather  
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Interesting video, Andrew! What are thought to be the climatological drivers that lead to a potential drop in hurricane frequency?

Posted by: ~sg | September 16, 2008 8:25 PM | Report abuse

~Sg, I sent your question on to Knutson directly so he can explain his findings in more detail. I will post his email reply here.

In general, his most recent study found that the way the tropical Atlantic warms compared to nearby areas of the ocean might influence storm counts. So too might increased wind shear and drier air aloft.

Posted by: Andrew Freedman, Capital Weather Gang | September 16, 2008 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Andrew! I'll watch for Knutsen's answer to be posted.

Posted by: ~sg | September 17, 2008 7:22 AM | Report abuse

Here is Tom Knutson's reply to ~sg's question, sent via email: "Our recent analysis of the model suggests that changes in atmospheric wind fields, such as increased vertical wind shear in the Caribbean, are most important in producing the reduced tropical storm frequency in the model's late 21st century projection. Other factors, such as the stabilizing effect of enhanced upper tropospheric warming, are potentially important but appear to play a secondary role in this case."

Posted by: Andrew Freedman, Capital Weather Gang | September 17, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

The counter-intuitive result of decreased hurricane frequency is a great example of discovering new insights via modeling. The complexity of the systems involved don't always lend themselves to easily predictable outcomes. It's by going in an examining the model results you're gaining insights into the processes involved.

Posted by: John - Burke | September 17, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

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