Tuesday, December 4, 2012

'Black swan' storms: extreme cyclones linked to warming seas

Becky Oskin in Our Amazing Planet: A "black swan" cyclone may sound like the latest comic book hero, but this "extreme of the extremes" is the result of climate models that suggest global warming will make future hurricanes more intense.

The rare monster tropical cyclones (the term for hurricanes, typhoons and other tropical storms) could inundate coastal areas with storm surges greater than 15 feet (4.6 meters), and could even surpass 30 feet (9 m) in some regions of the world. The research was described here yesterday (Dec. 3) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

By simulating thousands of possible future storms, researchers identified the outliers that could hit coastal areas in the future but that wouldn't show up in predictions based solely on historical records, said Ning Lin, a professor at Princeton University. The scientists relied on the same model the National Weather Service uses to predict hurricane activity for a given season.

...Even though Hurricane Sandy broke several records and generated tremendous storm surge, the superstorm was not a black swan, Lin said. The simulated storm surges calculated by the model for New York, at up to 16 feet, top the record set by Hurricane Sandy, at 14 feet (4.3 m) — part of which was the high tide at the time....

The Brooklyn waterfront during Hurricane Sandy, shot by lookcatalog, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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