This article discusses how warming oceans fueled the intensity of last summer’s hurricanes.
Last summer, the United states was pummeled with three severe hurricanes in rapid succession. It was a truly awesome display of the power of weather and the country is still reeling from the effects. In the climate community, there has been years of research into the effect that human-caused global warming has on these storms – both their frequency and their power.
The prevailing view is that in a warming world, there will likely be fewer such storms, but the storms that form will be more severe. Some research, however, concludes that there will be both more storms and more severe ones. More generally, because there is more heat, there is more activity, which can be manifested in several ways.
A very recent publication in the journal Earth’s Future studied the impact of hurricanes on warm oceans in order to understand how warm waters fuel the storms and also how storms affect the water temperatures. With Hurricane Harvey, a near perfect natural laboratory was available in the Gulf of Mexico. Temperature measurements are plentiful there and the scientists were able to measure the total ocean heat content in the upper 160 meters just before Hurricane Harvey passed and compare the heat measured after the storm.