Good afternoon everyone. I got another interesting news article in my e-mail box today that I shared with those on my mailing list. The article was courtesy of WLOX, a television station out of Biloxi, Mississippi that is an ABC affiliate, and it discussed a new study that was done by a researcher from NOAA, and another from the University of Miami. This particular study found that global warming could produce increased wind shear in both the Eastern Pacific and the Atlantic.
What does this have to do with tropical storms and hurricanes you ask? Well, if you look at the factors that are critical to tropical formation, light upper level winds are right up there when it comes to hurricanes. The reason for that is because tropical cyclones are vertically stacked systems, meaning that the cloud structure around the center of low pressure, or the eye of the storm, build high on top of each other, and it’s vertical profile is not slanted or sloping like that of mid-latitude cyclones. Light upper level winds or low wind shear is important especially for fledgling tropical systems, which are trying to put the right ingredients in place to blossom and mature into the intense storms that we are familiar with.
The NOAA researcher involved in this study is Gabriel A. Vecchi, which works at GFDL, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey. Both Vecchi and Brian J. Soden of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science put forth their findings after using 18 different computer models to “anticipate the effects of global warming in the years 2001-2020 and 2018-2100.” Wind shear is defined as the difference in winds at different levels in terms of both speed and direction. Both researchers found that vertical wind shear increased in the two basins adjacent to the United States when all other factors such as increased sea surface temperatures are all equal. But, in a situation with global warming, you have a scenario in which all other factors are “not equal.” However, other studies included those by MIT professor and Divine Wind author, Kerry Emanuel conclude that increased ocean temperatures have been linked to more powerful storms since 1970.
In addition, the study done by Vecchi and Soder did not find similar changes occurring elsewhere in other basins such as the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. According to this article, “The models projected that the west and central Pacific should become more favorable to development of the storms, called typhoons in those areas.” Emanuel also believes that the finding on wind shear may be overrated. The MIT professor stated that “storms’ sensitivity to wind shear may be overestimated.” He believes that the increase in sea surface temperatures that was the basis for his study, has a much more significant impact on tropical development than increased wind shear. Meanwhile, Chris Landea from the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA contends that this was an important study. Landsea, who has worked with Dr. William Gray of Colorado State in putting together seasonal Atlantic Hurricane forecasts called the research, “a very important contribution to the understanding of how global warming is affecting hurricane activity.” Keep in mind though that Landsea and Gray are supporters of a natural cycle of increased hurricane activity while Emanuel is a proponent of the global warming impact on sea surface temperatures and increased tropical activity.
What are my thoughts on this? Well, I believe that global warming is happening, and that the climate change is already making an impact in certain parts of the world. However, I also believe that while we need to do something about the environment now to prevent the climate problem from continuing to decline, we need to do something about the upcoming season, and years in the immediate future. We need to deploy practices and policies in coastal areas to protect those that are in harm’s way now. Now, while I believe that this research and Emanuel’s findings are important, and must continue, the media and the federal government must do more to call attention to protecting coastal areas, and discourage building and increased population in those regions. In addition, other parts of the world that are not as well off as the United States, are even more in peril as the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004, devastating floods in Central America caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and catastrophic flooding in Venezuela in 1999 proved.