Possibility of hurricanes 'unlike anything seen in history' worries researchers - Princeton's Ning Lin and MIT's Kerry Emanuel demonstrate that when it comes to destructive hurricanes, three international cities, especially Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tampa, U.S., and Cairns, Australia could witness a destructive storm that is much worse than anything in recent memory.
However, the researchers noted that these storms are highly unlikely to occur. They refer to these possible storms as "gray swans," riffing on the concept of a "black swan" event, an unpredictable catastrophe.
The gray swan storms were created by a computer model that coupled together a high-resolution hurricane model with a global climate model. That allowed the researchers to populate the simulated world with oodles of different storms.
It must be noted that Tampa Bay has not been hit by a major hurricane since 1921 but that storm drove a 3-3.5-meter storm surge and caused dramatic damage. In 1848, another storm produced a 4.6-meter surge in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay is susceptible because its water depth (the bathymetry) around the Florida peninsula is deep off the east coast, but there's an extremely broad continental shelf off the west coast.
Though, the city of Tampa sits at the head of Tampa Bay, relatively far from the mouth and removed from the barrier islands that get battered by the waves from the Gulf of Mexico, that's a more susceptible spot.
The new method shows that a worse storm than these historical examples is possible, particularly with global warming and sea level rise.
The researchers simulated 2,100 possible Tampa Bay hurricanes in the current climate, and then 3,100 each for three time periods (2006 through 2036, 2037 through 2067, and 2068 through 2098) in an unchecked global warming scenario.
In the current climate, it was found that a 5.9-meter storm surge is possible, in a strong Category 3 hurricane following a similar track to Tampa's 1921 and 1848 storms.
In a late 21st century climate with global warming, the worst-case scenario generated by the model included a different storm track, moving north along Florida's Gulf Coast and then veering inland at Tampa that generated an 11.1-meter surge.
In the current climate, for Cairns, Australia, a 5.7-meter storm surge is possible, but that would happen less than once in 10,000 years.
The study noted that the waters in Persian Gulf are very hot and therefore contain significant potential hurricane energy, but the atmosphere is usually too dry for hurricanes.
The researchers found that with 3,100 simulated events in today's climate, it is theoretically possible to witness a hurricane with winds of over 250 miles per hour and a storm surge of 7.4 meters affecting Dubai.