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Warm water enhances 2017 the big hurricane tally, says study

FILE – Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 satellite image provided by NOAA shows the eye of the Hurricane Irma, on the left, just to the north of the island of Hispaniola, with Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean. Six major hurricanes _ with winds of at least 111 mph (178 km / h) _ spun around the Atlantic ocean in 2017, including Harvey, Irma and Maria, who struck parts of the United States and the Caribbean. (NOAA via AP)

WASHINGTON – The Atlantic warmer waters rise to the unusual number of severe hurricanes last year, according to a new study predicts that the region would have an extra few whopper storms every year at the end of the century.

Six major hurricanes — with winds of at least 111 mph (178 km / h) — spun around the Atlantic ocean last year, including Harvey, Irma and Maria, who struck parts of the United States and the Caribbean. Since 2000, the Atlantic ocean has an average of three major hurricanes per year. Before that the average is closer to two.

It can go to five to eight major hurricanes per year around the year 2100, according to a study Thursday in the journal Science .

“We will see more active hurricane seasons such as 2017 in the future,” said lead author Hiro Murakami, climate scientist and hurricane expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So far this year, only one Atlantic hurricane, Florence, has achieved important status.

Warm water acts as fuel for hurricanes. The Water should be at least 79 degrees (26 degrees Celsius) for a storm to form. The warmer the water, the more it can resist the forces that would lead to the weakening, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, who was not part of the study.

Murakami has shown that a combination of natural conditions and human-induced climate change made the warmer waters in an area, causing more major storms. That area is essentially a large box from the south of Florida and north of South America, stretching from east Africa.

A number of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes form off the coast of West Africa, then chug west in the direction of the Caribbean and the US east coast.

The Water in that big box — the main hurricane development region — an average of 0.7 degrees to 0.4 degrees Celsius warmer than normal for the entire 2017 season, which is unusual for a period of six months period, Murakami said.

Murakami’s study uses computer simulations to isolate different climatic conditions. Although his research showed both natural and man-made causes through the burning of coal, oil and gas, Murakami said that he couldn’t separate enough to see that it was larger.

He used the computer models to see into the future. The Atlantic ocean is expected to warm faster than the rest of the oceans of the world. That difference is the reason why Murakami said that the number of severe storms will probably increase by two, or more, on average.

A number of external experts had problems with parts of Murakami’s study.

McNoldy said it is only logical that the unusually warm water was to blame in 2017, but he wasn’t quite ready to point the finger at the global warming of the earth.

“The hurricane seasons are not only becoming more active as the climate warms up. There is a huge variability,” McNoldy said in an e-mail.

Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research faulted Murakami’s study for not taking into account the large increase in ocean heat in deeper areas, he said, is also due to the climate change.

Princeton University Gabriel Vecchi said computer simulations do not show the Atlantic warming of the earth is fastest, so it is not so sure that there will be more big storms in the future.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears . His work can be found here .

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The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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