Cyclone Science: Climate Change and Hurricane Intensity

One can not help wonder how a warming Earth influences hurricane strength.

It's an obvious question. Now that we have Hurricane Patricia generating 200 mph wind, making it the most powerful on record in the Western Hemisphere, let us try and get a clue on how and why.


I asked meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a simple answer to this complex question. Emanuel has attended many of our Southern New England Weather Conferences, with one coincidentally happening this weekend. In the past, he has shared his research on the subject, indicating warmer oceans may lead to more intense tropical cyclones.

He was nice enough to send us a quick response:

"Tim: Patricia is certainly one for the record books, both in terms of its intensity and how rapidly it intensified. It just happened to be in exceptionally favorably conditions where and when it developed. These include unusually warm water that extended deeper into the ocean that is ordinarily the case, and very low wind shear. The unusually deep and warm water is at least partially due to the strong El Nino event in progress across the Pacific. We have broken a record this year for the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes across the northern hemisphere. While we cannot attribute this to global warming, it is consistent with the consensus of scientific studies that project an increased incidence of such high category storms as our climate continues to warm.

"Best regards, Kerry"

Thank you Kerry.

Another great mind in the field of Tropical Cyclone Science is also in the northeast. Find Michael Ventrice on Twitter.

He says major global patterns converged south of Mexico this week, fueling one of the most rapid cyclone intensifications ever witnessed.

This tweet really got my attention:

The tropical cyclone with the lowest pressure of all time was Typhoon Tip in Otober of 1979, which hit the northwest Pacific with a central pressure of 25.69 and a165 mph winds. Typhoon Nancy in the northwest Pacific in 1961 was the tropical cyclone with the strongest wind - 215 mph, with a central pressure of 26.05.

Hurricane Patricia is the strongest combined, with 200 mph winds and a central pressure of 25.98."

As we pray for citizens in the path of Patricia, we look to what lies in the future for Patricia remnants headed toward Texas.

There is a chance for regeneration of Patricia into a tropical cyclone again, this time in the Gulf of Mexico south of Houston.

Though wind should not be a huge factor, rain will be very heavy in the deep south and much of the eastern USA.


Here in New England, we have strong High Pressure from Canada moving offshore Tuesday. A steep pressure gradient between that high and the advancing low pressure (formally Patricia) likely generates gale force wind and heavy rain here Wednesday through Friday. Rain may even end as snow for the hills on New England before Halloween.

More on this later.

Contact Us