Magazine article Science News

As Globe Warms, Hurricanes May Speed Up

Magazine article Science News

As Globe Warms, Hurricanes May Speed Up

Article excerpt

Climbing ocean temperatures during the next century could raise the speed limit for hurricane winds, leading to more intense tropical storms, according to computer simulations of a warmer world.

Hurricanes draw their power from the heat within tepid tropical waters, and theory suggests that greenhouse warming could pump up the winds in such storms. Meteorologists, however, have debated whether hurricanes would respond in any obvious way.

The new study describes the most detailed simulations of future hurricanes to date, say Thomas R. Knutson and his colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. The researchers used a global climate model to simulate storms in a world gradually warmed by increasing carbon dioxide in the air. They focused on storms in the northwest Pacific Ocean, where the most intense hurricanes occur, and compared 51 in the warming scenario with an equal number in simulations of the present climate.

Because the global model covers such a large area, its resolution is limited and it produces only fuzzy versions of hurricanes. To sharpen the picture, the researchers reran each of the 102 simulated storms on a smaller-scale, higher-resolution model. Meteorologists use this technique for tracking actual hurricanes.

When tropical sea surface temperatures in the model increased by 2.2 [degrees] C, the wind speeds in the strongest storms were 5 to 12 percent higher than in the strongest storms of the control runs, the researchers report in the Feb. …

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