Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sign in

What Does Current Scientific Research Have to Say About the Present and Future Risks Associated with Hurricanes?

10/31/2005 12:00 PM Bartos
Kerry Emanuel, '76, PhD '78, Professor of Atmospheric Science

Description: As the costs of Hurricane Katrina continue to spiral higher -- to date, $125 billion in damages and 1,200 deaths _ there's keen interest in perfecting the science of hurricane forecasting. The insurance industry in particular has a big stake in learning where and how the next big one is likely to hit. The problem is that traditional methods of statistical analysis, relying on previous landfalling storms, only go so far in generating useful risk assessments. "We have a bad time predicting in real time when and where hurricanes will develop," says Emanuel. "It's not even easy to state over a long period of time what the probability is."

Emanuel is refining risk assessment by adding physics to the mix. His laptop-run program takes into account not only a century's worth of actual storms, but also the temperature at the ocean's surface, from which a hurricane derives much of its energy, as well as air currents, to generate tens of thousands of potential hurricane tracks. For instance, only 29 hurricanes have landed within 100 kilometers of Miami in the past century _ relatively little data to help predict potential future damage. Emanuel can conjure up thousands of possible storms evolving in the Atlantic and pounding that city with winds of a given intensity. The real trick, says Emanuel, will involve factoring in climate change. He's found a correlation between sea surface temperature and wind speed that poses serious consequences for a world that's rapidly heating up, with "a greatly increased hurricane destructive potential," says Emanuel. However, from a "U.S.-centric point of view, on a 50-year timescale, this probably doesn't mean much at all." The likelihood of another superstorm like Katrina or Rita hitting our coast will be a matter of bad luck. But gazing beyond a 50-year horizon, "then you have to worry about global trends," he says.

About the Speaker(s): Kerry Emanuel has been on the faculty of MIT since 1981. He was previously at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focuses on tropical meteorology and climate, with a specialty in hurricane physics. His interests also include cumulus convection, and advanced methods of sampling the atmosphere in aid of numerical weather prediction. He is the author or co-author of more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and two books, including Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes, (2005, Oxford University Press). Emanuel received his S.B. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT, and earned a Ph.D. in Meteorology from MIT in 1978.

Host(s): Office of the President, Office of the President

Tape #: T20492

Comments (0)

It looks like no one has posted a comment yet. You can be the first!

You need to log in, in order to post comments.

MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated 10 months ago

Created
December 12, 2011 20:45
Category
Tags
License
All Rights Reserved (What is this?)
Additional Files


Viewed
3118 times

More from MIT World — special events and lectures

Managers Not MBAs: Debating the Merits of Business Education

Managers Not MBAs: Debating the Mer...

Added over 4 years ago | 00:58:47 | 4055 views

2004 Nobel Colloquium

2004 Nobel Colloquium

Added over 4 years ago | 01:25:00 | 3837 views

The Innovation Economy: How Technology Is Transforming Existing Industries and Creating New Ones

The Innovation Economy: How Technol...

Added over 4 years ago | 00:36:53 | 2903 views

Transportation, the Built Environment and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Developing Cities

Transportation, the Built Environme...

Added over 4 years ago | 00:59:46 | 6263 views

Agents of Change: Model Partnerships with Academia

Agents of Change: Model Partnership...

Added over 4 years ago | 01:19:00 | 3076 views

Just Back from Iraq: Observations of a Weapons Inspector

Just Back from Iraq: Observations o...

Added over 4 years ago | 01:02:00 | 3390 views