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Possible effects of global warming on hurricane intensity

In her “Storm Warnings” piece for The New Yorker this week, Elizabeth Kolbert writes that “in Nature just a few weeks before Katrina struck, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that wind-speed measurements made by planes flying through tropical storms showed that the “potential destructiveness” of such storms had “increased markedly” since the nineteen-seventies, right in line with rising sea surface temperatures.”

global warming effects hurricane intensity
For those of you wondering, that researcher is Kerry Emanuel, author of Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes.

The attached image (Figure 32.6 in the book) is a computer simulation of the maximum wind speed in Hurricane Andrew in the present climate (solid curve) and with hypothetical global warming that raises tropical sea surface temperatures by 4 degrees F. It shows that the maximum speeds in Andrew might have been about 15 mph higher had it occurred in the warmer world.

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