Tropical Cyclones Act as Heat Pumps that Fuel Extreme Heat

While tropical cyclones are universally recognized for their destructive strength, new research led by a University-of-Arizona team published in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests another previously unrecognized danger: heat buildups after the storms.

The heat may plague residents trying to recover from storms after power has been knocked out. In addition to wind damage, storm surge and flooding, the heat represents a public health hazard. The researchers argue that preparedness information should warn the public about that heat risk.

About the Research

The researchers analyzed 53 tropical storms and hurricanes in the eastern Caribbean between 1991 and 2020. They also analyzed weather after storms passed the main cities in 14 Caribbean islands. In EVERY case, high-temperature anomalies followed passage of the storms – with values as high as 5°C (9 Fahrenheit).

The research team included: Zack GuidoTeddy Allen (Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology), Simon Mason (Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society), and Pablo Méndez-Lázaro (University of Puerto Rico). A summary of the research also appeared in Phys.org under the byline of Mikayla Mace Kelley.

“The research team analyzed 53 tropical cyclones in the eastern Caribbean between 1991 and 2020, and 205 interactions between the cyclones and 14 Caribbean cities. They found that the cities’ heat index values were always warmer than average after the storm,” says Kelley.

Guido, the lead researcher, added, “Everyone’s focus is on the destructive power of tropical storms and hurricanes — the storm surge, winds, flooding — and that’s obviously quite substantial, but our focus is on the combined hazard of storm and subsequent heat.”

The results also show maximum temperatures can occur several days after the storm’s passage, and can be observed in locations that are not directly impacted by the storm. The results suggest tropical cyclone preparedness should include informing the public about heat risk.

Giant Heat Pumps

Guido added, “Hurricanes are massive heat pumps, redistributing heat for a large spatial distance around the center of the storm, and they leave massive destruction in their wake that can knock out the energy grid. That combination is often dangerous because it slows recovery and poses risks to human health.”

Continental Locations?

I’m curious about whether the results apply to continental locations or if there is something intrinsically unique about island weather. I’ve contacted several meteorologists including the lead author to see if results can be extrapolated to the Gulf Coast. We certainly get our share of hurricanes. More when I hear back.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/10/22

1899 Days since Hurricane Harvey