Global warming and the frequency of intense Atlantic hurricanes: model results

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:37 PM GMT on April 05, 2010

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Could global warming increase wind shear over the Atlantic, potentially leading to a decrease in the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes? There is a growing consensus among hurricane scientists that this is indeed quite possible. Two recent studies, by Zhao et al. (2009), "Simulations of Global Hurricane Climatology, Interannual Variability, and Response to Global Warming Using a 50-km Resolution GCM", and by Knutson et al. (2008), "Simulated reduction in Atlantic hurricane frequency under twenty-first-century warming conditions", found that global warming might increase wind shear over the Atlantic by the end of the century, resulting in a decrease in the number of Atlantic hurricanes. For example, the second study took 18 relatively coarse (>60 km grid size) models used to formulate the 2007 IPCC climate report, and "downscaled" them using a higher-resolution (18 km grid size) model called ZETAC that was able to successfully simulate the frequencies of hurricanes over the past 50 years. When the 18 km ZETAC model was driven using the climate conditions we expect in 2100, as output by the 18 IPCC models, the authors found that a reduction of Atlantic tropical storms by 27% and hurricanes by 18% by the end of the century resulted. An important reason that their model predicted a decrease in the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes was due to a predicted increase in wind shear. As I explain in my wind shear tutorial, a large change of wind speed with height over a hurricane creates a shearing force that tends to tear the storm apart. The amount of wind shear is critical in determining whether a hurricane can form or survive.


Figure 1. Top: predicted change by 2100 in wind shear (in meters per second per degree C of warming--multiply by two to get mph) as predicted by summing the predictions of 18 climate models. Bottom: The number of models that predict the effect shown in the top image. The dots show the locations where tropical storms formed between 1981-2005. The box indicates a region of frequent hurricane formation where wind shear is not predicted to change much. Image credit: Geophysical Research Letters, "Increased Tropical Atlantic Wind Shear in Model Projections of Global Warming", by Vecchi and Soden, 2007.

Since the Knutson et al. study using the 18 km resolution ZETAC model was not detailed enough to look at what might happen to major Category 3 and stronger hurricanes, a new study using a higher resolution model was needed. This was done by a team of modelers led by Dr. Morris Bender of NOAA's GFDL laboratory, who published their results in Science in February. The authors used the GFDL hurricane model--the model that has been our best-performing operation hurricane track forecasting model over the past five years--to perform their study. The GFDL hurricane model runs at a resolution of 9 km, which is detailed enough to make accurate simulations of major hurricanes. The researchers did a double downscaling study, where they first took the forecast atmospheric and oceanic conditions at generated by the coarse (>60 km grid) IPCC models, used these data to initialize the finer resolution 18 km ZETAC model, then used the output from the ZETAC model to initialize the high-resolution GFDL hurricane model. The final results of this "double downscaling" study suggest that although the total number of hurricanes is expected to decrease by the end of the century, we should expect an increase of 81% in the number of Category 4 and 5 storms in the Atlantic. This trend should not be clearly detectable until about 60 years from now, given a scenario in which CO2 doubles by 2100. The authors say that their model predicts that there should already have been a 20% increase in the number of Category 4 and 5 storms since the 1940s, given the approximate 0.5°C warming of the tropical Atlantic during that period. This trend is too small to be detectable, given the high natural variability and the difficulty we've had accurately measuring the exact strength of intense hurricanes before the 1980s.The region of the Atlantic expected to see the greatest increase in Category 4 and 5 storms by the year 2100 is over the Bahama Islands (Figure 2), since wind shear is not expected to increase in this region, and sea surface temperatures and atmospheric instability are expected to increase there.

The net effect of a decrease in total number of hurricanes but an increase in the strongest hurricanes should cause an increase in U.S. hurricane damages of about 30% by the end of the century, the authors compute, assuming that hurricane damages behave as they did during the past century. Over the past century, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes made up only 6% of all U.S. landfalls, but accounted for 48% of all U.S. damage (if normalized to account for increases in U.S. population and wealth, Pielke et al., 2008.)


Figure 2. Expected change in Atlantic Category 4 and 5 hurricanes per decade expected by the year 2100, according to the Science paper by Bender et al. (2010).

Commentary
These results seem reasonable, since the models in question have been successfully been able to simulate the behavior of hurricanes over the past 50 years. However, the uncertainties are high and lot more research needs to be done before we can be confident of the results. Not all of the IPCC models predict an increase in wind shear over the tropical Atlantic by 2100, so the increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes could be much greater. Also, the GFDL model was observed to under-predict the strength of intense hurricanes in the current climate, so it may not be creating enough Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the future climate of 2100. On the other hand, IPCC models such as the UKMO-HadCM3 predict a very large increase in wind shear, leading to a drastic reduction in all hurricanes in the Atlantic by 2100, including Category 4 and 5 storms. So Category 4 and 5 hurricane frequency could easily be much greater or much less than the 81% increase by 2100 found by Bender et al.

The estimates of a 30% increase in hurricane damages by 2100 may be considerably too low, since this estimate assumes that sea level rise will continue at the same pace as was observed in the 20th century. Sea level rise has accelerated since the 1990s, and it is likely that this century we will see much more than than the 7 inches of global sea level rise that was observed last century. Higher sea level rise rates will sharply increase the damages due to storm surge, which account for a large amount of the damage from intense Category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

Keep in mind that while a 30% in hurricane damage by the end of the century is significant, this will not be the main reason hurricane damages will increase this century. Hurricane damages are currently doubling every ten years, according to Pielke et al., 2008. This is primarily due to the increasing population along the coast and increased wealth of the population. The authors theorize that the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, a Category 4 monster that made a direct hit on Miami Beach, would have caused about $150 billion in damage had it hit in 2005. By 2015, the authors expect the same hurricane would do $300 billion in damage. This number would increase to $600 billion by 2025 (though I think it is likely that the recent recession may delay this damage total a few years into the future.) It is essential that we limit coastal development in vulnerable coastal areas, particularly along barrier islands, to reduce some of the astronomical price tags hurricanes are going to be causing. Adoption and enforcement of strict building standards is also a must.

The authors of the GFDL hurricane model study have put together a nice web page with links to the paper and some detailed non-technical explanations of the paper.

References
Bender et al., 2010, "Modeled Impact of Anthropogenic Warming on the Frequency of Intense Atlantic Hurricanes", Science, 22 January 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5964, pp. 454 - 458 DOI: 10.1126/science.1180568.

Vecchi, G.A., B.J. Soden, A.T. Wittenberg, I.M. Held, A. Leetmaa, and M.J. Harrison, 2006, "Weakening of tropical Pacific atmospheric circulation due to anthropogenic forcing", Nature, 441(7089), 73-76.

Vecchi, G.A., and B.J. Soden, 2007, "Increased Tropical Atlantic Wind Shear in Model Projections of Global Warming", Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L08702, doi:10.1029/2006GL028905, 2007.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Seastep:


Don't know if there is one, but I would think so. I did a quick search but came up empty.


You'd think there would be one out there somewhere I can't find it either.
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Quoting SouthDadeFish:


You don't need a scale like this. If you're worried about each individual component read the NHC public advisory.


That doesn't get the point out though. Most people don't go to the NHC site for advisories.
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Quoting skepticall2:


Wheres a link to Houston's seismograph?


Don't know if there is one, but I would think so. I did a quick search but came up empty.
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Quoting skepticall2:


That is what I saw last summer in the blog a video showing how they can change it and it actually work. Each gets a score and you look at individual scores for how hard you might be hit and then you add up the individual scores for the overall category the storm is. It would work and would tell people what to look for and what will be the most threatening to them.


You don't need a scale like this. If you're worried about each individual component read the NHC public advisory.
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Quoting Tazmanian:
ITS GOING TOO BE A LONG HOT MAY



WHERE DID SUMMER COME FROM


I think were bypassing Spring this year and going straight into summer. Who would have thought this after a cold winter.
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Quoting Seastep:


I'd say it's a possibility.

Yellowstone seismograph picked it up pretty well.

Link


Wheres a link to Houston's seismograph?
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Quoting all4hurricanes:

All the more reason for a scale like this. It doesn't have to be one number there could be a combined score telling people what to look for


That is what I saw last summer in the blog a video showing how they can change it and it actually work. Each gets a score and you look at individual scores for how hard you might be hit and then you add up the individual scores for the overall category the storm is. It would work and would tell people what to look for and what will be the most threatening to them.
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Quoting Tazmanian:
ITS GOING TOO BE A LONG HOT MAY



WHERE DID SUMMER COME FROM


It's going to be a long hot April very impressive temps on the come 10 to 14 days from now in the southeast and FL. There could be a long string of 90 degree days in Orlando coming very soon as no cold fronts are forecasted at this time after Friday for 2 to 3 weeks.
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Quoting RMCF:
yesterday around 5:45 TO 6 PM in Houston,Tx I noticed waves in my pool something i have never seen before the water was moving up and down the beach entry about a foot and a half was it earthquake related or something else ?


I'd say it's a possibility.

Yellowstone seismograph picked it up pretty well.

Link
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There is no question that the SSHS could be improved, but it does a relatively good job. It's simple and people understand it. It does a good job at describing the intensity of a storm in terms of wind. But wind doesn't kill people most of the time. Storm surge does. Wind does damage, but storm surge kills. This is why the NHC is experimenting with storm surge warnings.
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ITS GOING TOO BE A LONG HOT MAY



WHERE DID SUMMER COME FROM
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115437
Major concerns for the central and eastern Atlantic which continue to warm.





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Quoting RitaEvac:
Andrew hitting Florida:

Wind: Cat 5
Storm Surge: Cat3

Andrew Hitting Louisiana:

Wind: Cat 3
Storm surge: Cat 4


There's no such thing as a certain category in terms of storm surge. Much of it has to do with bathymetry and size of the wind envelope. I've done a lot of work with a potential hurricane scale and so have many other people. If you're interested look into the Hurricane Hazard Index and the Hurricane Intensity Index by Kantha, or Integrated Kinetic Energy. The problem is even if you have one scale, so much damage is localized. Even down to your neighborhood. For example with Hurricane Andrew, the damage to houses at the end of an east to west culdesac was much greater than the other houses. It's hard to comprise that with one scale. There's so many factors to hurricane damage. Even if you have two scales, one for wind and one for storm surge, what about flooding? i.e. tropical storm Allison. The biggest problem is people don't understand storm surge and the other damaging components of a hurricane. 98% of the public won't know what a category 4 storm surge means. They just want to know if they need to evacuate or not and why.
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Quoting Bordonaro:
Several Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are up between the Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Watch areas:


If I was a storm chaser I would be in NE Kansas because when that cap breaks I do expect Tornadoes to form in the triple point area.
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Quoting jeffs713:

Hard to do that, since one storm can have very strong components of some, but not others. You could have a large storm pushing an incredible surge, but weaker winds (Ike). Or a small storm pushing a small surge, but incredible winds (Andrew). Or you could have a large storm, with high winds, but a very small radius of the hurricane force winds, and a very low pressure.

All the more reason for a scale like this. It doesn't have to be one number there could be a combined score telling people what to look for
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:
No matter what happens scientists insist that global warming causes it... 2005= OMG global warming boiling the ocean. 2007-2009= oh wait now global warming causes shear and less hurricanes...

Its laughable, fitting the science to meet the results...
I think what annoys me most about the tone of this post and others like it is that it completely dismisses any scientific validity whatsoever to the work done by the researchers. Never mind that they did follow scientific method and employ respected wx modelling tools like the GFDL. Something was in there about GW, so let's trash the whole thing.

I'm reminded of old-time attitudes towards alchemists, who reputedly were trying to turn lead to gold. Sure there were scoffers. It even turns out the scoffers were right. However, in the process, those old-time alchemists set our collective feet on the path of increased knowledge and understanding of the world around us and the properties of rocks and minerals which are more valuable than gold today.

Maybe what we should be learning from these studies has little or noting to do with global warming.
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238. xcool
hey
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684
Quoting HurricaneSwirl:
How are watch numbers determined?

Is it that each CWA starts at number 1 for the first watch of each type and keeps going until the end of the year or something? I've always wanted to know that. I don't think I'm right, considering several watches span over several CWAs.

The Watch Numbers are in numerical order, starting at #1 in Jan 1st of each year.
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Quoting RMCF:
yesterday around 5:45 TO 6 PM in Houston,Tx I noticed waves in my pool something i have never seen before the water was moving up and down the beach entry about a foot and a half was it earthquake related or something else ?


My brother in Ohio heard on the news that you could feel the earthquake in Houston I felt nothing but you never know.
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Looks like this will be our next invest:



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How are watch numbers determined?

Is it that each CWA starts at number 1 for the first watch of each type and keeps going until the end of the year or something? I've always wanted to know that. I don't think I'm right, considering several watches span over several CWAs.
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Joining the fray here....Or you could have a "mere" tropical storm, like Faye, flooding the entire State of Florida under the right conditions....My personal point is, with the exception of the stronger Cat 2 and above Canes which pretty much wreck havoc, that I would rather have a fast moving Cat 1 anyday over a slow moving "soaker" tropical storm that saturates the ground and can make trees fall down in a 50 MPH gust......Every storm is different and the effects relative to the storm and geography/angle of approach to the coast/coastal topography, etc.....
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Several Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are up between the Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Watch areas:
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Quoting HurricaneSwirl:
Well, it's official, we have hit our first 90 of the year, with WU reporting at 90.8 degrees.


We should get ours in Orlando on Thursday as a SSW flow develops across the penisula. A SSW flow in Orlando is a very warm wind.
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URGENT - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
TORNADO WATCH NUMBER 49
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
250 PM CDT MON APR 5 2010

THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER HAS ISSUED A
TORNADO WATCH FOR PORTIONS OF

CENTRAL ILLINOIS
EAST CENTRAL MISSOURI

EFFECTIVE THIS MONDAY AFTERNOON AND EVENING FROM 250 PM UNTIL 900
PM CDT.

TORNADOES...HAIL TO 2.5 INCHES IN DIAMETER...THUNDERSTORM WIND
GUSTS TO 70 MPH...AND DANGEROUS LIGHTNING ARE POSSIBLE IN THESE
AREAS.

THE TORNADO WATCH AREA IS APPROXIMATELY ALONG AND 60 STATUTE
MILES NORTH AND SOUTH OF A LINE FROM 20 MILES NORTH NORTHWEST OF
SAINT LOUIS MISSOURI TO 40 MILES EAST OF MATTOON ILLINOIS. FOR A
COMPLETE DEPICTION OF THE WATCH SEE THE ASSOCIATED WATCH OUTLINE
UPDATE (WOUS64 KWNS WOU9).

REMEMBER...A TORNADO WATCH MEANS CONDITIONS ARE FAVORABLE FOR
TORNADOES AND SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IN AND CLOSE TO THE WATCH
AREA. PERSONS IN THESE AREAS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
THREATENING WEATHER CONDITIONS AND LISTEN FOR LATER STATEMENTS
AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS.

OTHER WATCH INFORMATION...CONTINUE...WW 48...

DISCUSSION...THUNDERSTORMS ARE INCREASING IN COVERAGE ACROSS CENTRAL
IL...IN VICINITY OF RETREATING SURFACE WARM FRONT. MODERATE
INSTABILITY AND RATHER WEAK CAP WILL PROMOTE FURTHER INTENSIFICATION
THROUGH THE AFTERNOON AND EARLY EVENING. FAVORABLE DEEP LAYER
VERTICAL SHEAR SUGGEST SUPERCELL STORM STRUCTURES ARE LIKELY...WITH
THE RISK OF LARGE HAIL AND DAMAGING WINDS. ISOLATED TORNADOES
CANNOT BE RULED OUT DUE TO PROXIMITY OF WARM FRONT AND MOISTENING
BOUNDARY LAYER.

AVIATION...TORNADOES AND A FEW SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS WITH HAIL
SURFACE AND ALOFT TO 2.5 INCHES. EXTREME TURBULENCE AND SURFACE
WIND GUSTS TO 60 KNOTS. A FEW CUMULONIMBI WITH MAXIMUM TOPS TO
500. MEAN STORM MOTION VECTOR 26030.


...HART
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
229. RMCF
yesterday around 5:45 TO 6 PM in Houston,Tx I noticed waves in my pool something i have never seen before the water was moving up and down the beach entry about a foot and a half was it earthquake related or something else ?
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I can't believe it...it's a GW blog, and no Al Gore photos!!!!!!!!!

:(
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The region of the Atlantic expected to see the greatest increase in Category 4 and 5 storms by the year 2100 is over the Bahama Islands (Figure 2), since wind shear is not expected to increase in this region, and sea surface temperatures and atmospheric instability are expected to increase there.

Oh, dear. Add to this the potential sea level rise, which is much more likely to impact the "barrier-island-like" Bahamas, and u are working on a worst case scenario right there.... by 2100 there wouldn't be much left.....

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226. Skyepony (Mod)
jeff9641~ Neutral conditions by the start of season is possible, if your only considering the actual SST in region 3,4 on june1st. Official Neutral conditions looks somewhat doubtful for June 1st since that is a 3 month running average of March, April & May.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 209 Comments: 39076
Well, it's official, we have hit our first 90 of the year, with WU reporting at 90.8 degrees.
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Quoting all4hurricanes:
There are many ways to classify hurricanes.
Size
Surge
Sustained winds
Wind Gusts
Moisture content
Central Pressure
Velocity ect
there needs to be a scale that incorporates most if not all of these features

Hard to do that, since one storm can have very strong components of some, but not others. You could have a large storm pushing an incredible surge, but weaker winds (Ike). Or a small storm pushing a small surge, but incredible winds (Andrew). Or you could have a large storm, with high winds, but a very small radius of the hurricane force winds, and a very low pressure.
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Very interesting read Jeff Masters!
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Quoting Skyepony:


After six weeks of nearly no change, this past week showed a little weakening (in region 3,4..where it is measured)


I don't expect this to be the beginning of a fast crash with more heat coming from the east & where we may see even more surface soon.


Very hot ocean temps off central America on the Pacific side. The easterly trade winds seem to be pushing that very warm water back to the west. Still should be near neutral conditions come the start of hurrican season though.
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Andrew hitting Florida:

Wind: Cat 5
Storm Surge: Cat3

Andrew Hitting Louisiana:

Wind: Cat 3
Storm surge: Cat 4
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Example of Ike:

Wind: Cat 2
Storm Surge: Cat 4

This is all the NHC has to do for hurricanes.
People inland expect this, people near the ocean and bays expect this.
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217. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
hmm is only having problems with my blog it seems because It works for this blog.
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Quoting SQUAWK:


I don't understand why they need a rating system to begin with. Most people don't understand what it means anyway. Why not just say is will be a 130 MPH hurricane with a 15 foot storm surge that will travel 3 miles inland. Then the idiots might understand what they are dealing with. If you have to have categories I would go with something like:

Ho Hum
Hide the lawn furniture
Hide the kids
Get outta Dodge
Kiss your butt good bye

Some may understand that.


As sad as it is, it would work
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double post because of an edit in Firefox, sorry
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Quoting atmoaggie:

I thought Galveston was the largest city in TX in 1900.


Just looked it up and it was the biggest. Maybe he meant to say it could of stayed the biggest city in Texas.
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Quoting RitaEvac:
NHC gonna have to have a scale for wind, and a scale for storm surge, period. That means if you live on the water and its rated high for storm surge, you better get out. If you are away from the water like Houston, and the rating is low for wind you should be alright. But if you are one of those that cant make it without electricity, well your gonna leave and cause a mass evaucation


I don't understand why they need a rating system to begin with. Most people don't understand what it means anyway. Why not just say is will be a 130 MPH hurricane with a 15 foot storm surge that will travel 3 miles inland. Then the idiots might understand what they are dealing with. If you have to have categories I would go with something like:

Ho Hum
Hide the lawn furniture
Hide the kids
Get outta Dodge
Kiss your butt good bye

Some may understand that.
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idiot quoted himself instead of making an edit.. blondes sheesh
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211. Skyepony (Mod)
Hades~ I tried it with the newest version of firefox..no problem.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 209 Comments: 39076
Quoting twhcracker:
so i guess you could say galveston was in the running for biggest city in texas and a hurricane changed all that, then port st joe florida was the biggest city in florida but a hurricane wiped it clean down to the sand dunes.


yellow fever drove off the citizens, then the hurricane cleaned the slate.
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Quoting all4hurricanes:
There are many ways to classify hurricanes.
Size
Surge
Sustained winds
Wind Gusts
Moisture content
Central Pressure
Velocity ect
there needs to be a scale that incorporates most if not all of these features


I agree 100%
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Quoting twhcracker:
so i guess you could say galveston was in the running for biggest city in texas and a hurricane changed all that, then port st joe florida was the biggest city in florida but a hurricane wiped it clean down to the sand dunes.

I thought Galveston was the largest city in TX in 1900.
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Quoting HadesGodWyvern:
is anyone having problems editing a post using firefox

when I click modify post the post I am trying to edit glitches..


EDIT: I don't think I am having any issues with it.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
There are many ways to classify hurricanes.
Size
Surge
Sustained winds
Wind Gusts
Moisture content
Central Pressure
Velocity ect
there needs to be a scale that incorporates most if not all of these features
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
so i guess you could say galveston was in the running for biggest city in texas and a hurricane changed all that, then port st joe florida was the biggest city in florida but a hurricane wiped it clean down to the sand dunes.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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