Atlantic Hotter Than Before Katrina, Boosting Storm Forecasts

by Jay Kimball on 10 August 2010

Keywords: hurricane, climate change, global warming, impact of climate change, cost of climate change

As the world gets warmer, weather forecasters and insurance companies expect increased storm activity, more severe storms, and increased storm-related damage. In an article in Bloomberg, meteorologists at the US National Hurricane Center are predicting Katrina sized storms, saying “The storms we will be talking about in the next few weeks will be the real deal. These will be big-sized hurricanes.

The chart at right shows the trend. There have been four times as many weather-related disasters in the last 30 years than in the previous 75 years. (NB: Data comes from Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters)

According to the National Hurricane Center, 10 of the 30 costliest American hurricanes have struck since 2000, even after adjusting the figures for inflation and the cost of construction.

Highlights of Article: Atlantic Hotter Than Before Katrina, Boosting Storm Forecasts

  • If all the storms forecast by Colorado State materialize, 2010 will be tied with 1969, the fifth-busiest season on record.
  • Energy companies are reacting to the first signs of danger. They halted 26 percent of oil production and 14 percent of natural-gas output in June, when Hurricane Alex churned through the Gulf into Mexico, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The operators idled 52 percent of oil and 24 percent of gas output the following month before Tropical Storm Bonnie dissolved south of Louisiana.
  • Five years ago, in the most-active hurricane season on record, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita killed more than 1,800 people, caused $91 billion in damage, destroyed 115 energy platforms in the Gulf, and shut down 95 percent of Gulf oil production and almost 30 percent of U.S. refining capacity, according to government reports. Gasoline prices soared to as much as $5 a gallon and shortages were reported across the South.
  • The Gulf of Mexico is home to about 31 percent of U.S. oil output and about 10 percent of gas production, according to the Energy Department. It’s also the site of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, caused by the April 20 explosion at BP Plc’s leased rig. The spill is still being cleaned up.
  • If all Gulf platforms were closed, the daily production loss would be $160 million to $170 million, based on current prices, according to AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk-modeling firm.
  • A repeat of Katrina also would cause $6 billion to $9 billion in damage to offshore platforms, rigs and wells, according to models created by Risk Management Solutions Inc. of Newark, California.
  • Since 1995, when a cyclical increase in Atlantic hurricanes began, 89 percent of all storms have formed after Aug. 1, according to the hurricane center. The hurricanes that do about 85 percent of the damage when they hit land typically form between Aug. 20 and Oct. 20, Gray said.
  • Sea surface temperatures in the mid-Atlantic between the Lesser Antilles and the African coast averaged 1.2 degrees Celsius (about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal from March to June, warmer than the 0.92 degrees in 2005, said Richard Pasch, a senior specialist at the Miami hurricane center. “That’s the fuel for tropical cyclones, the water vapor that’s evaporated from warm ocean surface,” he said.
  • Colorado State, in Fort Collins, forecast 18 storms for 2010, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 14 to 20 from June 1 through Nov. 30.
  • http://www.8020vision.com Jay Kimball

    Andy Revkin, who writes the excellent Dot Earth column over at the New York Times, commented on this post and the graph above:

    Andy wrote:
    “It’s absolutely an important graph, as long as the context is fully explained. It’s a spike in reporting, in losses due to more people and infrastructure, and – possibly – in the number of incidents, with a potential climate-change contribution. Don’t take my word for it. Debarati Sapir, of the group that produced it, explained the issues here awhile back:

    ‘We believe that the increase seen in the graph until about 1995 is explained partly by better reporting of disasters in general, partly due to active data collection efforts by CRED and partly due to real increases in certain types of disasters. We estimate that the data in the most recent decade present the least bias and reflect a real change in numbers. This is especially true for floods and cyclones. Whether this is due to climate change or not, we are unable to say.

    Once again, we would like to point out that although climate change could affect the severity, frequency and spatial distribution of hydro-meteorological events, we need to be cautious when interpreting disaster data and take into account the inherent complexity of climate and weather related processes — and remain objective scientific observers.'”

    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com

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