Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Intense Hurricanes

I just saw an astonishing factoid on the KGO-7 evening news: the #1, #4, and #6 most intense hurricanes ever in recorded history are, respectively, Wilma, Rita, and Katrina. The metric for the ranking is the lowest air pressure. To put that in perspective,

  1. Wilma (2005), 882 millibars
  2. Gilbert (1988), 888 millibars
  3. (unnamed, Florida Keys, 1935), 892 millibars
  4. Rita (2005), 897 millibars
  5. Allen (1980), 899 millibars
  6. Katrina (2005), 902 millibars
Another way of stating the same factoid: "There have been only five hurricanes in recorded history with a pressure of less than 900 millibars. Two of them have been in the past month."

Heaven forbid that we should change our way of life just to prevent (or even just reduce) global warming.

Global Warming means that the oceans get warmer, too. Warmer oceans mean stronger hurricanes. The heat in the ocean water provides the energy to make the hurricane bigger and more intense, with even stronger winds. The hurricane is kind of like a heat pump for your house, in a way.

In the winter, a heat pump warms your house by literally air conditioning the entire outdoors. Think about it: your air conditioner or your fridge has to dump out a lot of heat — not only the heat that it is sucking out of the now colder air, but also the heat that the device itself generates as overhead (friction in the moving parts, etc.). Using a heat pump as a heater, though, turns the nozzle backwards so that instead of having the extra heat be an annoying byproduct, it's a benefit. It's "it's not a bug, it's a feature" brought to reality.

A hurricane doesn't have chemical refrigerants or aluminum tubing, but it operates in a remarkably similar fashion. Just as your car converts the heat from burning gasoline into the mechanical energy of zero to sixty in blah-point-blah seconds, the hurricane converts the heat from a giant pool of warm sea water into the mechanical energy of 280 km/hr winds and several metres of storm surge and decimetres of rain, also known as "bend over and kiss New Orleans good-bye!"

And then I watched last night's new South Park with everything you ever needed to know about Global Warming....