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Assessing the Affect of Climate Change on Hurricane Activity

PI: Kerry Emanuel
Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Over the past year, we have developed a set of new techniques for assessing hurricane risk in general. The first part of this involved developing a new tropical cyclone genesis index, which predicts the space-time probability of storm formation given monthly mean environmental kinematic and thermodynamic conditions. This index works very well in the present climate for predicting the spatial, seasonal and interannual variability of storm genesis. Once we calculate this index, we generate a very large number of synthetic storm tracks by first making random draws from the genesis PDFs and then marching the tracks forward assuming that the storms move with a weighted vertical average of the environmental flow plus a constant correction for beta drift. The environmental flow is also synthesized using Fourier time series with random phase, but which have the same monthly means, variances and covariances as the NCEP re-analysis data. Finally, a simple but accurate coupled deterministic hurricane intensity model is run along each track, and output from this is used to assess wind speed probabilities. The statistics of the tracks and the wind speeds compare extremely well with historical hurricane data. Details of this technique are described in an article accepted for publication in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

I would like to extend this technique to predict hurricane activity in future climates by using GCM output to calculate the hurricane potential intensity (needed by the deterministic model), the genesis PDFs, and the monthly means, variances and covariances of global winds to synthesize hurricane tracks. Doing this for a reasonably large set of models will help assess uncertainty. I believe this will produce the first quantitative analysis of hurricane risk in global warming scenarios.
  • Emanuel, K., R, Sundararajan, and J. Williams, 2008: Hurricanes and global warming: Results from downscaling IPCC AR4 simulations. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 89, 347-367. Abstract. Full Article. Edit.

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