A Moment of Science

Hurricanes Heating Up and Cooling Down

You may have heard that global warming will result in more hurricanes that are larger and more destructive. In fact, most scientists believe this to be true.

Hurricane Jeanne Off Of Florida

Photo: kakela (flickr)

A hurricane is formed by a continuous exchange of heat from the ocean's surface to the atmosphere, which results in swirling winds. The more heat, the more likely a hurricane is to form.

You may have heard that global warming will result in more hurricanes that are larger and more destructive.

In fact, most scientists believe this to be true.

Hurricanes form in the tropics where warm ocean water evaporates, warming the air. That warm, moist air rises and condenses, forming storm clouds. The condensation releases more heat, warming the air and causing it to rise higher, which makes room for more warm air from the ocean’s surface.

Basically, a hurricane is formed by a continuous exchange of heat from the ocean’s surface to the atmosphere, which results in swirling winds. The more heat, the more likely a hurricane is to form. And since global warming is making things warmer, it makes sense that more hurricanes would form.

The thing is, however, that hurricanes also make things cooler. When a hurricane gets moving across the water, it creates waves about 300 feet down in the ocean. When the waves break they mix the water, bringing colder water from deep in the ocean to the surface and forcing warmer water down to the depths.

A hurricane leaves cooler water in its wake, which has the effect of cooling the tropics. In one sense, hurricanes have an anti-global warming effect. That is, the more hurricanes there are, and the larger they are, the more they cool the tropics.

Unfortunately, the cooling effect isn’t enough to completely offset global warming, and of course, larger and more violent hurricanes would cause more damage and loss of life.

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