Hurricanes Begat Warming, and Vice Versa

Image of three concurrent Pacific typhoons, 7 Aug 2006, courtesy NASA

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


More frequent hurricanes (and typhoons and tropical cyclones) in Earth’s past contributed to persistent El Niño-like conditions, which in turn made more hurricanes.

According to a new paper in Nature, tropical cyclones were twice as common during the Pliocene epoch 3 to 5 million years ago, when temperatures were up to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than now. The storms also lasted two to three days longer than now. Unlike today, they occurred across the entire tropical Pacific Ocean. Co-author Christopher Brierley tells Yale:

“The Pliocene is the best analog we have in the past for what could happen in our future. We wondered whether all these storms could have contributed to the warmer climate.”

Apparently they did. Cyclone and climate models revealed a positive feedback loop between tropical cyclones and upper-ocean circulation in the Pacific—which explains the increase in storms leading to permanent El Niño-like conditions.

We don’t have a permanent El Niño today because cold water off California and Chile skirts the region of tropical cyclones, forming a “cold tongue” stretching west from South America. But during the Pliocene the cold tongue was repeatedly hit by one of many tropical cyclones, churning it with warmer waters. This equatorial warming led to changes in the atmosphere that in turn created more tropical storms.

Next step for the Yale/MIT team is to study how much of that kind of mixing might be happening with today’s tropical cyclones.
 

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate