Cumberland Advisors Guest Commentary – Hurricanes, Bob Bunting, CAC

Municipal bond ratings are affected by the preparedness of the issuers for severe weather, the impacts of climate change, and other factors that may affect credit ratings. Cumberland Advisors takes a keen interest in the micro and macro details surrounding municipalities and weather events.

Our colleague Bob Bunting, meteorologist, professor, and former executive at both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), is CEO of the Climate Adaptation Center (CAC) here in Sarasota, Florida. Bob has contributed several guest commentaries to Cumberland in recent years, including “It’s Hot and Getting Hotter – The Case for Adaptive Strategies for a Warming Planet” (https://www.cumber.com/guest-commentary-by-bob-bunting-its-getting-hotter/). The story of climate change is still unfolding and we’re paying attention. -David


Guest Commentary – Hurricanes

by Bob Bunting

If you live along the Eastern Seaboard of North America or the Gulf Coast, or in the Caribbean or Central America, hurricanes have been on your mind these past few years, and with good reason! The last four years have been barnburners, and this year set an all-time record for tropical storms.

The average number of storms in a normal hurricane season is just 10. Starting in 2017, we have seen the number of storms grow year by year from 12 to 15, 18, and now 30 so far in 2020. Before we discuss why this unmistakable trend has emerged, let me spend a minute on how these amazing, fascinating, and sometimes terrifying storms naturally form.

Hurricanes start with the evaporation of warm seawater, which pumps water vapor into the lower atmosphere where the sea and the air meet. Nothing happens unless there is already a disturbance of some kind present. That could be any weather event where there is already some upward motion in the atmosphere. Typically, it’s a clump of thundershowers that provide the necessary convergence of winds to focus the rising air. As air rises to higher altitudes and cools, water vapor starts to condense into clouds and rain. That process releases heat that warms the surrounding air. As the air far above the sea rushes upward, even more warm, moist air spirals in along the sea–air interface to replace it. Sea-level air pressure at the center falls further and further, creating stronger and stronger rotating winds around the center. Here we go!

Thinking in 3 three dimensions now, as long as the bottom of this weather system remains anchored to the warm seawater and its top is not blown off center by shearing high-altitude winds, the system can strengthen and grow from a depression to a tropical storm and possibly a hurricane.

The process from disturbance to hurricane or major hurricane usually takes days, but things are changing! As the climate has warmed, worldwide temperatures have steadily increased since 1850, and almost all the years of the 21st century so far are among the top 20 warmest, so hurricanes now have warmer seas to feed energy into them. In 2017 I coined a term to describe what I believe is a step function in rapid hurricane development. I call it Explosive Development; NOAA uses that term Rapid Intensification, which means an increase in wind speed of 35 mph in a tropical storm or hurricane within a 24 hour period. But the term doesn’t quite capture the meaning in a way the public can relate to, so at the Climate Adaptation Center we call are using explosive development.

Just this year, nine storms have exhibited this explosive behavior, and some have set intensification records, including Laura, Eta, and Delta, all of which made US landfall. It’s been a record year for US direct hits by tropical storms. Twelve have struck the US, and the season is not over yet! Up until now, the highest number of storm hits in the US was nine in 1916.

Hurricanes by Bob Bunting & Climate Adaptation Center

The Weather Channel’s tally for rapid intensification is shown above.

Eta intensified from a tropical depression to 155-mph sustained winds in just 36 hours! Imagine if Eta had done that just off the coast of the US and then hit a major metro area. Eta took a terrible toll in Central America, with hundreds killed, fierce floods, and widespread damage to crops that could create humanitarian crises in the months ahead. Now Iota is forming and appears likely to take a path similar to Eta’s and create a second serious hit in the same place!

The trend toward more rapidly developing storms may be far from peaking. Researchers at MIT, led by colleague Dr. Kerry Emanuel, used a computer study that compared hurricanes generated from 1979 to 2005 and then, based on expected climate warming by 2100, ran another simulation. The frequency of storms rapidly intensifying near a coastline with an increase in wind intensity of 70 mph or more in a 24-hour period increased from one such storm in a hundred years to one every 5–10 years. That’s an increase of 10 to 20 times and further confirms my own predictions on this subject. Other scientists have done similar work, and while details differ, all studies lead to the same general conclusion. The risk of catastrophe is rising along populated coastlines of North America; risk management is becoming an ever more urgent activity; and that is what we need to get about doing!

Hurricanes are also displaying two other changes in characteristics that are adding to risk. The first is that they are slowing down because the Earth is warming faster at the poles than at the equator. As that happens, the temperature difference between pole and equator decreases, slowing the steering winds that move weather systems. Hurricanes are stalling more frequently. We saw that with Harvey in Texas, Florence in the Carolinas, Dorian over the Bahamas, and Eta over Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. In each case, not only did storm winds do more damage but also rainfall caused epic flooding. Harvey set a world record of over 60 inches, and Eta probably dumped a similar amount in Central America.

Hurricanes by Bob Bunting & Climate Adaptation Center

The track of Eta makes the point about slower movement.

The dots in the image above indicate movement in 12-hour periods, and colors show the intensity of the storm. Orange is Cat 4. Imagine the situation if Honduras were instead Houston, Tampa, Miami, NYC, or Boston and a tropical depression rapidly increased to a Cat 4 or Cat 5 storm just before coming ashore and then stalling.

If that scenario were not enough, also consider that these storms that rapidly intensify often have “pinhole eye” structures that are just 10 to 15 miles wide. Eta’s was 10 miles wide; Laura’s was 20 miles wide. These small eyes concentrate the wind; and when they come ashore, they are like large EF3 tornadoes. Hurricane Michael was also a rapid intensifier with CAT 5 force and a 10-mile-wide eye. It wiped out Mexico Beach in Florida just two years ago, doing $8 billion in damage in a relatively unpopulated area.

Hurricanes by Bob Bunting & Climate Adaptation Center

Hurricane Michael roars ashore as a Category 5, Oct 10, 2018

Damage to a major US city or cities could top $1 trillion if they were hit by a rapidly intensifying Cat 4 or Cat 5 storm. The stage could be set for a mass casualty event. Are we ready?

Still not convinced? From 1980 to 2000 there were a total of five Category 5 storms in the Atlantic basin. The basin includes the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean. Since 2000, there have been 14 Category 5 hurricanes; and should Hurricane Eta be reclassified as a Category 5, as I suspect it will when site surveys are complete, then the total will be 15.

The Climate Adaptation Center (CAC) chose Sarasota Florida for its initial location partly because of the area’s many climate-driven disruptions, from hurricanes to harmful algae blooms like toxic red tide and sea level rise. Climate warming is also having impacts on both human health and our natural environment.

Florida is growing by leaps and bounds and now has 22 million people, 7 million more than in 2000. Climate disruptions and the growing population are both happening at once, requiring world-class risk mitigation! The CAC provides science translated in a way that can lead toward much more effective risk management. Once we have established a successful model in Sarasota, we want to deliver a CAC that leverages effective climate adaptation in your area! To do that, we need to make the work in Sarasota a stunning success. That is what is about to happen!

Bringing our understanding of climate warming from the global level to the local level allows us to use great science to make probability-based climate forecasts similar to the weather forecasts you use every day.

Making those climate forecasts and backing them up with information and a curated science database will help decision makers in government, the private sector, and academia to speedily develop cost-effective and timely regional adaption and mitigation measures to blunt the worst impacts of climate disruptions. Not only can this strategic effort mitigate risk, it can simultaneously jump-start the Climate Economy TM. If we do this right, reacting to climate warming in a positive way will help build the economy and turn the threat into a wide range of opportunities.

Postscript:

While this article was in publication, the nonstop 2020 hurricane season delivered another all-time record event as Hurricane Iota crushed Central America with winds gusting to 200 mph.

Hurricanes by Bob Bunting & Climate Adaptation Center

Hurricane Iota at landfall in almost exact place as Hurricane Eta 13 days previously.

 

  • Latest Category 5 recorded in the Atlantic Basin
  • Second time in 13 days Central America hit, in the same location, by a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane
  • First time a hurricane reached Category 5 in a storm named in the Greek Alphabet
  • No hurricane season has had more than 2 major hurricanes in October and November.  This year we have Delta, Epsilon, Eta and Iota.
  • The 15th Category 5 since 2000.

Given what we now know, please help us make the CAC successful.

While international solutions to the global climate problem evolve in the coming decades, we are focused first on the immediate need to address Florida’s present and future climate warming issues. Foremost among these are sea level rise, hazards to human health, red tide, changing hurricanes, and threats to the natural environment.

Once proven, this entrepreneurial business model will be used along with the CAC infrastructure to start CACs around the US and the world. Solutions happen on the local level.

Our mission is to build CAC into a focal point connecting the scientific community, the public sector and private enterprise to apply climate science to solving Florida’s unique challenges, while engaging Florida businesses in developing cost-effective adaptation strategies for Florida and jump-start the Climate Economy TM .

Broadly speaking, the Climate Economy TM refers to the relationships among actions that can strengthen economic performance and those that reduce the risks resulting from climate change. At global and national scales, considerable emphasis is placed on the concept of a low-carbon economy – shifts in energy consumption and production that limit greenhouse gas emissions, thus limiting future climate warming. Regional and local climate economies have a more immediate focus on adaptation and mitigation efforts.

By engaging the business community, together with the scientific community and the public sector, the first CAC creates a launch pad for new products and services for cost-effective solutions to Florida climate issues.

Help us make the climate threat into a climate opportunity!

Look at our CAC website and bookmark it so you can come back again and again. https://www.theclimateadaptationcenter.org

Register and you will get updates from me. https://www.theclimateadaptationcenter.org/about-us/contact-us/

Donate and I will kiss the ground! https://www.theclimateadaptationcenter.org/donation-form

With knowledge doubling at an ever faster rate, by 2100 we will know how to tune the climate. In the meantime, reducing risk and buying time for a wider solution is the only way to go. The bottom line is, climate disruptions are personal, and they are happening now.

I’ll leave you with a photo taken a few nights ago as Tropical Storm Eta hit Sarasota. Winds were only 52 mph, but over six inches of rain fell in just 24 hours, breaking a 100-year-old record for the date. People are saying they have never seen such tidal flooding on our protective barrier islands. A life was lost. Will insight be gained and opportunity seized?

Bob Bunting
https://www.theclimateadaptationcenter.org/our-team/
CEO, Climate Adaptation Center (CAC)
A nonprofit federally tax-exempt corporation EIN-84-1889176

Tropical Storm Eta hits Sarasota November 2020 - Photo Sarasota PD

Tropical Storm Eta hits Sarasota, FL, flooding parts of downtown. Image: Sarasota PD
We thank Bob Bunting for allowing us to publish his above guest commentary titled, “Hurricanes”

Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might be interested. Thank you.

David R. Kotok
Chairman and Chief Investment Officer
Email | Bio

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Cumberland Advisors Guest Commentary – Is There A COVID-19 Signal in Climate Data & Is It Potential Good News for Florida?

Our colleague Bob Bunting, meteorologist, professor, and former executive at both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), is CEO of the Climate Adaptation Center (CAC) here in Sarasota, Florida. Bob has contributed several guest commentaries to Cumberland in recent years, including “It’s Hot and Getting Hotter – The Case for Adaptive Strategies for a Warming Planet” (https://www.cumber.com/guest-commentary-by-bob-bunting-its-getting-hotter/).


Is There A COVID-19 Signal in Climate Data & Is It Potential Good News for Florida?

by Bob Bunting

The impact of climate on human health is a key focus area for the Climate Adaptation Center (CAC). One of the things we are looking at is how COVID-19 is distributing itself due to temperature and humidity and what that could mean for residents of Florida.

While it is too early to say, it appears thus far that the virus is spreading in a rather narrow climatic band across the world where temperatures range from 4–12°C and humidity ranges from 45–70%. This area covers a populated swath of the Northern Hemisphere and a very small swath of the Southern Hemisphere.

Is There A COVID-19 Signal in Climate Data & Is It Potential Good News for Florida

On the graphic above, we see the green belts depicting the zone where temperatures and humidity appear ideal for COVID-19 proliferation. Note that the zone in the Northern Hemisphere covers a large populated portion of our planet. Interestingly, the same belt is largely over the oceans in the Southern Hemisphere this time of year. There has been little spread there!

When COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan, China, it would have been normal to see the outbreak spread to Southeast Asia, where travel and trade with China are great, but it hasn’t happened to any great extent. Instead the virus spread to South Korea, Japan, and Iran… all in the green zone.

The spread to areas outside of the green belts isn’t zero, but the numbers are much lower so far. It’s still too early to call this a trend, but the next few weeks should add clarity. As spring takes hold in a big way in the next month and temperature and humidity increase, Florida will be a fascinating case. Florida is south of the present sweet spot, and we have a very large population of about 23 million. If the emerging trend I see holds, Florida could have far less transmission than cooler areas in the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Seaboard north of Florida, where more ideal climate conditions for the virus may exist.

In any event, flu is normally seasonal, and COVID-19’s relationship to the climatic band MAY indicate that COVID-19 is a seasonal flu-like illness, too. Wouldn’t this be a stroke of luck for Florida, the US and the world! We can watch and hope.

As I mentioned, the impact of climate on human health is a continuing focus area for the CAC. Our new enterprise is a tax-exempt institution and needs to raise $2 million to fully come on line. Our insights and knowledge applied to the great challenges of our time, including climate warming, can provide needed information for the private sector, government, academe, and the public. Please support our mission.

Bob Bunting, Atmospheric Scientist, Author, Educator, CEO
bobbunting@comcast.net
(303) 507-0936


We thank Bob Bunting for allowing us to publish his above research titled, “Is There A COVID-19 Signal in Climate Data & Is It Potential Good News for Florida?”

Feel free to share this message to anyone who might be interested. Thank you.

David R. Kotok
Chairman and Chief Investment Officer
Email | Bio


Links to other websites or electronic media controlled or offered by Third-Parties (non-affiliates of Cumberland Advisors) are provided only as a reference and courtesy to our users. Cumberland Advisors has no control over such websites, does not recommend or endorse any opinions, ideas, products, information, or content of such sites, and makes no warranties as to the accuracy, completeness, reliability or suitability of their content. Cumberland Advisors hereby disclaims liability for any information, materials, products or services posted or offered at any of the Third-Party websites. The Third-Party may have a privacy and/or security policy different from that of Cumberland Advisors. Therefore, please refer to the specific privacy and security policies of the Third-Party when accessing their websites.

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Cumberland Advisors Guest Commentary – Outlook for the 2019 Hurricane Season

Bob Bunting brings his established credentials, including being a Director of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and a Lead Forecast for NOAA, to this guest commentary. He also mentions the Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Center (CAC), of which he is the CEO and which I personally support with money and effort.

Bob Bunting & David Kotok

We thought it timely to share Bob’s views as we in Florida start the summer red tide season and hurricane season with very warm water, even as we digest the newly released FEMA updates on disaster and contingency planning.

We thank Bob for this guest submission and also for agreeing to speak on July 16 at the joint GIC-Keystone Policy Center meeting in Keystone, Colorado. See: www.interdependence.org for details.

Editor’s Update: Bob’s July 16, 2019 presentation is available here – https://www.interdependence.org/resources/adapting-to-a-warmer-climate/


Bob Bunting


And his July 17, 2019 interview in Sarasota, FL can be viewed here:

 



 

Now here’s Bob Bunting. -David


The Hurricane Season 2019 Outlook

By Bob Bunting

Hurricane forecasting has become more a science than an art over my multi-decade career, and that is a good thing! The last few years have not been kind to the US mainland and territories. In 2017, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, all Category 4’s at landfall, caused massive flooding or wind damage; and last year, a slightly above-normal season in the Atlantic, was devastating, with two major hurricanes, Florence and Michael, setting records for wind and rain. These five storms traveled over very warm seas and had explosive development (ED) cycles, and Michael struck the panhandle of Florida as a Category 5, the first ever in the region.

As I look at sea-surface temperature anomalies at present, I do not like what I see! In mid-June there are several areas where sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) are 3°C higher than normal, as you can see in the depiction below.

Bob Bunting Hurricane Image

The coolest water, shown in shades of blue, is off the coast of western Mexico and in the northern mid-Atlantic. Warm water is abundant in the South Atlantic and along the East Coast of the US, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas and Mexico coasts. The dashed ovals show SSTs that average 1 to 3 degrees C above normal. An area of very warm water, averaging 5°C above normal, lies along the Mid-Atlantic coastline from Cape Cod to North Carolina.

 

Three of the four areas of warmer than normal SSTs are therefore close to the US mainland and densely populated areas of our country. After the last several years, when we have seen hurricanes develop rapidly from the tropical storm stage all the way to Category 4 and 5 superstorms in just a day or two, we should be concerned!  Incidentally, I have coined a term for such rapid development cycles: explosive development (ED).

During the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, Hurricane Harvey struck the Greater Houston area with peak winds of 130 mph and 60+ inches of rain in places. Then there was Hurricane Irma, which terrorized the Caribbean islands and Florida as it gained and maintained Category 4 and 5 status for days and proved to be the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. Finally, Hurricane Maria rapidly developed and whacked Puerto Rico with upper-Category 4 winds, leveling much of the island.

The 2018 hurricane season was active but with only two major hurricanes. Unfortunately, both of them hit the US. Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas as just a Category 1 but drowned the area with 30+ inches of rain, a record for that region. Please note that the color-coding of the 2018 hurricanes is slightly different, but you will get the idea.

This is Florence:

Later in the season, Hurricane Michael ripped through the panhandle of Florida as a Category 5 storm.

Together, these five storms did an amazing $295 billion in damage, $265 billion in 2017 and $30 billion in 2018 and killed about 4700 people! Fortunately, last year the two major hurricanes hit the US in relatively sparely populated areas.

What is unusual about the last two seasons is that hurricanes experienced ED cycles where they intensified to Category 5 within a day or two. All these storms except Harvey had pinpoint eyes that were 20 miles or less in diameter.  Take a close look at Michael’s amazing pinhole eye as it came ashore. When storms have this extremely compact eye formation, the winds around the eye are like large tornadoes that wipe the landmass clean. Hurricane Michael showed its fury as it leveled the area around Mexico Beach, Florida, and also mowed down more than a million acres of trees in North Florida and South Georgia. Inland Georgia experienced Category 3 winds for the first time in recorded history.

Two of the five storms, Harvey and Florence, dumped record rains as they stalled on the coastline. This, too, is unusual.

What we know is that SSTs are now much warmer than normal on average. When expansive water bodies like oceans and gulfs are warm, they also tend to warm to a greater depth than usual. When tropical systems move over expansive, warm water bodies they intensify more rapidly than they would over cooler water, all other things being equal. They also gather more moisture in the process and can become very heavy rainmakers, especially if they stall or move slowly as they approach land.
Since 1880, millions of verified observations have shown that the Earth’s average air temperature has risen by almost 2°F. That does not seem like much, but in effect it is! Warmer air holds more moisture. We also know that the poles are heating much faster than the equator is, which means the temperature gradient between the equator and poles is diminishing. When that happens, the jet streams weaken and move poleward. The result can be that hurricanes approaching the mid-latitudes can stall or slow down and dump those record rainfalls.

We also know that since 1880 sea level rise has averaged about 9 inches around the globe. When strong storms hit the coasts, storm surges are not only higher now because storms are stronger but also because the surges come on top of already higher sea levels.

So where do these considerations leave us as we consider the 2019 hurricane season? Thankfully, a weak El Niño event is ongoing in the Pacific. El Niño conditions in the Pacific correlate with stronger wind shear in the Atlantic. When the wind speed increases with increasing height, shear is created. Such conditions inhibit hurricane development by disrupting the vertical organization of storms.

Because we know SSTs are warmer than normal overall and wind shear may be somewhat higher than normal, the forecast is for a near-normal hurricane season this year. Normal is defined as about 12 storms total, with two or three major hurricanes. A major hurricane is considered a Category 3, 4, or 5 storm.

Given the normal season expected, why am I more than a little concerned? Because – and you may already see where I’m going here! – the warm SSTs are close to US shorelines, where tens of millions of people live. Thus, hurricanes approaching the US may spin up more rapidly than normal, as has been the case in recent years. Take Florida, for example. Since the 2000 census, Florida’s population has from grown from 15.3 million to 21.6 million today. Should a hurricane rapidly intensify just off the coast of a heavily populated area and then strike within 24 hours, there would not be time for an orderly evacuation. This is a nightmare scenario for planners and a potential catastrophe when it becomes reality.

With very warm water along the eastern seaboard well north of usual warm water anomalies of the past, this may be the year when a storm moving up the East Coast becomes much stronger faster and then maintains super-hurricane status for much longer than usual.

Why is this potential developing? We cannot say with absolute certainty that any particular storm is a result of climate warming. But what we can say is that much warmer sea surface temperatures create increasing probabilities of bad outcomes.

Climate warming impacts are here now Isn’t it time that we begin to plan, adjust, and mitigate the worst impacts of climate-induced changes like sea level rise and the changing characteristics of hurricanes? We know a lot about how to mitigate, plan, and adjust; but thus far our response has been too slow for the level of threat we now face. This just isn’t smart!

USF Climate Change Event Jan 2019 - Bob Bunting

These are among the threats that have led to the creation of the Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Center (CAC). While the initial center will focus on local and regional climate-related issues in Florida, we hope the first CAC will be a prototype for other CACs worldwide to deal with local impacts. Adaptation and mitigation actions can help us to successfully deal with the worst impacts of a warming climate. While a global solution to the warming climate may evolve in the decades ahead, we now have little choice but to adapt in ways that protect our way of life. Climate warming is not only a problem for future generations; it is a problem for us! For more information about the CAC, please contact me at bobbunting@comcast.net. We need your help now!

David R. Kotok
Chairman and Chief Investment Officer
Email | Bio

Bob Bunting
Atmospheric Scientist, Author, Educator, and Entrepreneur
Email | Bio


Links to other websites or electronic media controlled or offered by Third-Parties (non-affiliates of Cumberland Advisors) are provided only as a reference and courtesy to our users. Cumberland Advisors has no control over such websites, does not recommend or endorse any opinions, ideas, products, information, or content of such sites, and makes no warranties as to the accuracy, completeness, reliability or suitability of their content. Cumberland Advisors hereby disclaims liability for any information, materials, products or services posted or offered at any of the Third-Party websites. The Third-Party may have a privacy and/or security policy different from that of Cumberland Advisors. Therefore, please refer to the specific privacy and security policies of the Third-Party when accessing their websites.

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