Climate Feedback

Forecasting the future of hurricanes

The world’s most advanced simulation of extreme weather on a warming Earth completed its first run last Friday – though the data won’t be fully digested into human-readable format until spring. Yesterday I talked to meteorologist Greg Holland, co-leader of the study, at the Willis insurance company’s London office – whose cycle racks, I can report, are tucked away discreetly across the street from its intimidatingly curved and purple-lit lobby.

Willis’s research arm funded the work, along with the offshore oil industry, the US Department of Energy and the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), where Holland is based. They all want to know how climate change will alter hurricane patterns in the Atlantic. At the request of several US state governors, the project is also looking at rainfall over the Rockies and winds in the Great Plains. Says Holland:

I’m not going to forecast a squall line through New York in 2050. But what we want to do is be able to say: “What are the statistics of squall lines going through New York in 2050?” or “What are the statistics of hurricanes coming into Miami in 2050?”


To find that out, Holland’s team has embedded global climate models with detailed weather forecasting simulations at key regions. He says more about the research in an interview online at Nature News. But worth noting here is its emphasis on cranking out results immediately useful to government and industry – something that I, at least, hear talked about more than I see it done. Projections hot off the supercomputer will be passed to policymakers, insurers and drillers, so they can start to work with the most relevant results while peer reviewers are still looking them over. Holland explains:

We’ll be publishing papers all along the way — that’s what gives the program credibility. But what’s in a published paper is not exactly what you, if you’re the governor of Florida, need. You need specific information, and we can start providing that.

Anna Barnett

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    Steve Bloom said:

    Is there a connection to these new results?

    Global cloud-system-resolving model NICAM successfully simulated the lifecycles of two real tropical cyclones

    “The increasing capability of high-end computers allows numerical simulations with horizontal resolutions high enough to resolve cloud systems in a global model. In this paper, initial results from the global Nonhydrostatic ICosahedral Atmospheric Model (NICAM) are highlighted to demonstrate the beginning of a potentially new era for weather and climate predictions with global cloud-system-resolving models. The NICAM simulation with a horizontal resolution of about 7 km successfully reproduced the lifecycles of two real tropical cyclones that formed in Indian Ocean in the austral summer 2006. Initialized with the atmospheric conditions 1-2 weeks before the cyclones genesis, the model captured reasonably not only the timing of the observed cyclone geneses but also their motions and mesoscale structures. The model provides a high temporal/spatial resolution dataset for detailed studies of mesoscale aspects of tropical cyclone genesis. These promising results suggest the predictability of tropical cyclones by high-resolution global cloud-system-resolving models.”

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