The Impact of Oceanic Heat Content on the Rapid Intensification of Atlantic Hurricanes

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With the increased infrastructure and amount of people living along the United States coastline, it is imperative to improve the accuracy of Atlantic hurricane intensity forecasts. Over the last 10 years, there have been many Atlantic hurricanes, including Hurricanes Katrina and Charley that surprised many forecasters with their rapid intensification and power. The rapid intensification of tropical cyclones is the most serious aspect, when it comes to forecasting. It is generally accepted that sufficient surface ocean temperatures (approximately 26°C) are needed to produce and sustain tropical cyclone formation. However, the sea-surface temperature (SST) has shown not to be critical in intensity forecasting by itself, particularly with rapid intensification (Schade & Emmanuel, 1999; Law & Hobgood 2007). Tropical cyclones derive much of their energy from warm, deep ocean water. Therefore, a quantified measure of the amount of this warm, deep water is a better way to measure the amount of energy available to the storm. The oceanic heat content (OHC) is such a variable to measure the amount of warm water available for the tropical cyclone to convert into energy and has been shown to be a much better predictor than SST alone (Zebiak, 1989; McDougall, 2003; Wada & Usui 2007; Palmer & Haines, 2009; Shay & Brewster, 2010).


First published as Chapter 17 In: Lupo, A., eds. Recent Hurricane Research - Climate, Dynamics, and Societal Impacts . Croatia : InTech: 331-354 and is reprinted with permission.