NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 28, 2008

Warmer oceans should translate to fewer Atlantic hurricanes striking the United States, according to government scientists.

The reason: As sea surface temperatures warm globally, sustained vertical wind shear increases; wind shear makes it difficult for storms to form and grow.

According to researchers:

  • Warming of the Pacific and Indian oceans plays an important role in determining hurricane activity in the Atlantic.
  • As the Atlantic basin becomes hotter, hurricane intensity likely won't increase and might even deflate somewhat.
  • The reason is that the ocean's heat acts to stabilize the upper atmosphere, which, in turn, hurts a storm's ability to build.

Vertical wind shear is not the only factor that determines Atlantic hurricane activity, but it is an important one, noted Chunzai Wang, a physical oceanographer and climate scientist with NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, and study author.  Other factors include atmospheric humidity, sea level pressure, and sea surface temperature, he said.

Observations from 1854 to 2006 show almost all the world's oceans have warmed, particularly in large areas of the tropical regions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, researchers found.  That warming has increased vertical wind shear in the Atlantic and suppressed hurricane activity.

Source: Ken Kaye, "Scientists: Warm seas may mean fewer hurricanes," South Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 22, 2008.


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