Critical Examination of Hurricane Intensification Predictions

Why climate models not yet worth their salt!

By Jim Steele

As all hurricane researchers lament, model predictions of when and where hurricanes will intensify, have not improved much in the past 20 years. As recently as the early 2010s, weather model forecasts failed to predict 88 percent of rapidly intensifying tropical storms. Nonetheless National Public Radio (NPR) has ranted that hurricanes are “intensifying more quickly, turning from less-serious storms to very strong ones in hours or days. Superheated ocean waters hold a lot of extra energy, and a growing storm can draw from that enormous pool.” But such “superheated water” is not widespread as rising CO2 narratives suggest, but found only in very limited regions and usually associated with “barrier layers”.

Hurricanes intensify as they draw “superheated” subsurface waters  of 65.5°F or higher. However, when a hurricane’s suction pulls up cooler subsurface waters, the hurricane weakens. This negative feedback naturally limits the intensity of all hurricanes. In the upper panel of the attached graphic, Arnand (2023) illustrates where thin barrier layer exists, hurricane intensity hovers around Category 1. In contrast, where thick barrier layers form, cooler deep waters are prevented from reaching the surface, and instead allow superheated sub-surface waters to cause rapid intensification.

Denser fluids don’t naturally rise above less dense fluids! Barrier layer formation happens wherever freshwater overlays dense salty waters. Although solar heating would normally make subsurface waters less dense and rise to the surface, layers with higher saltiness makes the water more dense which inhibits warm convection. That traps and intensifies the subsurface heat, enabling hurricanes to intensify to Category 5.

As illustrated, solar ponds can produce useful heat and electrical generation by simply maintaining a dense salty layer at about a 10-foot depth and overlay it with a fresh upper surface layer. As illustrated in the left-hand graphic, despite ambient air temperatures of only 30°C, solar pond’s dense salty layer reaches 90°C. ( For more details regards solar ponds dynamics, watch Science of Solar Ponds Challenges the Climate Crisis )

Similar to solar pond dynamics, the right graphic of the middle panel documents a natural forming barrier layer in the Bay of Bengal, where subsurface temperatures that would normally be cooler than the surface were “superheated” to 4.5°C warmer than the surface layer. In the Bay of Bengal thick barrier layers often form and intensify cyclones due to freshwater flows from the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers overlaying dense salty water. Likewise, thick barrier layers are common in the south China Sea due to freshwater outflow from the Yangtze River (Chángjiāng). Barrier layers form in the Caribbean due to outflows from the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers, while outflows from the Mississippi River cause barrier layers in the Gulf of Mexico.

Intensification does not require higher ocean heat content. Climate models fail to accurately predict hurricane intensification because the models rely on sea surface temperatures and ocean heat content, but lack good subsurface saltiness data to determine barrier layer dynamics. Miles (2023) studying the intensification of Hurricane Ida in 2021 concluded that even with marginal ocean heat content, barrier layers are conducive to storm intensification. By not including barrier layer dynamics, climate model predictions have suffered high failure rates yet still incorrectly attribute hurricane intensification to rising CO2.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in US history causing over 1800 deaths and billions of dollars of damage. New Orleans was susceptible to heavy hurricane-induced flooding because humans dried out the land causing the city to sink, while the government failed to maintain the required levees. Although Katrina was only a Category 3 when it struck New Orleans it is often described as a Category 5. Thus, the tragedy of Katrina prompted a flurry of research on extreme weather attribution and proclamations of a climate crisis. But the bottom panel of the attached graphic shows Katrina only intensified to a Category 5 for a brief time in a limited area, consistent with barrier layer formation.

The Gulf of Mexico’s summer surface temperature hovers between 28 to 29°C as the Loop Current delivers warm and salty tropical water. As that current pushes closer to the Gulf Coast and gets covered by fresh Mississippi water, barrier layers form. As Katrina’s storm track reveals, it was a weak Category 1 off the coast of southern Florida suggesting a lack of any “superheated” water that alarmist suggest rising CO2 is causing. Then over a 24-hour period Katrina intensified from a Category 3 to a Category 5, then weakened back to a Category 3, again consistent with barrier layer dynamics.

The fact that extreme Category 5 hurricanes are clustered over a few years, and then disappear for another 5 to 8 years, suggests the variability in dense salty currents and freshwater outflows, will cause variable formation of thick barrier layers. But the media rarely ever educates the public about barrier layers. Likely because barrier layers provide an alternative scientific warming dynamic that conflicts with the CO2 crisis narratives.

You can always recognize biased alarmist scientists and media. They will report the intensification of a hurricane in a very small region for a very short time where barrier layers form, and only blame it on CO2global warming.

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September 30, 2023 7:05 pm

Very nice.

John Hultquist
September 30, 2023 7:29 pm

Years ago, teaching intro-to-earth-science**, I used food coloring and “doctored” water to show a few if these ideas. Twenty years ago, many (not all) high school graduates were ill-prepared for science.

**Often taught without a lab-section and met a science requirement for non-science majors.

Good post. thanks Jim.

September 30, 2023 8:28 pm

I wonder if this could be turned on its head – could a hurricane be defanged by somehow forcing mixing to occur? Say by detonating a large nuclear device deep underwater, to trigger a large upwelling of cold water and enough surface turbulence to mix it?

Obviously there would be other considerations which might make this impractical, like the risk of radioactive contamination of coastlines, but could such an intervention work in theory?

Jim Steele
Reply to  Eric Worrall
September 30, 2023 9:36 pm

I see it as completely impractical no matter what detonation you choose. Right now barrier layers are not readily detected, except by using underground gliders. Models are getting better at predicting a hurricane storm tracks, but surveying everything within the prediction cone to determine if and where a thick barrier layer exists would be extremely difficult and costly.

Mumbles McGuirck
Reply to  Eric Worrall
October 2, 2023 8:03 am

There are always people advocating for forcing mixing deep, cooler water with the warmer surface waters in front of a hurricane. Mostly recently, Bill Gates was pushing this idea.
However, they don’t account for the massive area that would need to be cooled nor do they consider what a harmful impact it would have on sea life in the area of the cooling. You could trigger a massive die-off of plankton causing a ‘dead zone’ in the ocean.

September 30, 2023 9:17 pm

From the above article,
“Superheated ocean waters hold a lot of extra energy.”

With all due respect Jim Steele, the term “superheated” should be reserved for the scientific definitions of:
1) “heat (a liquid) under pressure above its boiling point without vaporization”, or
2) “heat to a very high temperature”
—ref: Oxford Languages on-line dictionary

Neither of these definitions apply to Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico water temperatures that may be temporarily running 5 C or so above their historic averages over the last 200 years or more.

Jim Steele
Reply to  ToldYouSo
September 30, 2023 9:23 pm

TYS, I was using the word superheated facetiously, mocking NPR’ alarmist claim using the word superheated

Reply to  ToldYouSo
October 1, 2023 1:23 am

Give him a break! He put the word in quotes like “—–” and it was clearly mocking the eco-bedwetter mentioned.

Smart Rock
September 30, 2023 9:41 pm

Thanks Jim for an informative post on a subject that I knew nothing of.

Now I’m curious about “SST” as measured by satellite, and shown on maps, e.g. at When we see hot spots in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, are we seeing the temperature of the barrier layer?

Mumbles McGuirck
Reply to  Smart Rock
October 2, 2023 8:08 am

Just remember, satellites “see” just the SURFACE temperature. They don’t measure the depth of warm water. There are satellite measurements of Ocean Heat Content (OHC) that take into account the depth of warm water. But, again, these measurements don’t account for the salinity content of various subsurface layers, which is what this article is takling about.

Mike McMillan
October 1, 2023 12:28 am

The premise of greenhouse is that the surface absorbs IR, heats up, then radiates back up more than the incoming IR due to the T^4 relationship, thus amplifying the effect. If the surface depth for this IR interaction is mere microns, then you won’t have any warming – that thin layer will be the same temperature as the underlying water. Any absorption will result in increased evaporation rather than temperature, a cooling process and thus no amplification. Thus no greenhouse effect over water, more than seventy percent of the earth’s surface.

The fact that the surface is radiating more IR than it receives might be greenhouse if there were a rise in temperature, but there isn’t. That suggests that we might be getting total IR reflection in that micron thick layer.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Mike McMillan
October 1, 2023 12:51 am

I clicked on the YouTube link for the video, and got a message that it was blocked. Yootoob wants to protect sensitive peons from disruptive and disreputable sites like WUWT.

I copied the url and dropped it in and got the video, but it had a message underneath.

Climate change
United Nations
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, mainly caused by human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels.

Nice to know the establishment is looking out for me.

Reply to  Mike McMillan
October 1, 2023 8:46 am

Notice that the IPCC definition is self biasing…stating that CC is human caused by definition…so if you mention a “natural” component in a comment, the autobot will take you down. In some cases you can read your own comment but others will find it not visible. Some very rash statements will be allowed to discredit sceptical viewpoints in general. So, Getting more self serving by the month…

Jim Steele
Reply to  Mike McMillan
October 1, 2023 8:48 am

Youtube adds a link to UN climate alarmism to everyone of my videos. Facebook is similarly bad. My wife and I were hiking in Arches National Park in late April and got snowed on. Posting the beautiful pictures of Arches to FB I quipped “got snowed on, no global warming here” So FB added the UN alarmist link, not just to that one photo but to every photo we added that day. They certainly want to desperately control what we think.

Peta of Newark
October 1, 2023 2:13 am

1/ Solar ponds require that the sun can ‘see’ the bottom of the pond = they require to be shallow and that the bottom of them is very dark and energy absorbing.
A solar pond is never going to happen out in a real ocean

2/ A solar pond requires crystal clear water at its surface – it matters not how ‘fresh’ or cool/cold it is or how salty the water below it is.

3/ Take a trip on street-view and satellite images around New Orleans to see how relentlessly muddy the water is there.
The sun would have been ‘super’ heating the surface water and NOT the subsurface water

4/ OK, the water would have flowed the wrong way BUT, a huuuge rainstorm/cloudburst hit Cleveland Ohio on 20th August 2005. =3.55 inches of rain.
What we need to know is the extent of that storm
i.e. How much mud, if any, was washed/swept into the Mississippi watershed by whatever created the Cleveland cloudburst

The timing is near perfect – that tsunami of slurry would have reached New Orleans about a week later

5/ By reference to the attached screenshot.
Yes, fresh river water floats on salty sea-water but if the river water is turbid, if the weather is windy or if the tide upsets it, what you see in the graphic there happens.
The boundary layer collapses and the warm subsurface water comes to the stop

6/ Katrina

  • The water offshore of New Orleans is shallow and always muddy
  • Possibly a significant rain event on the watershed created even more mud
  • Katrina was a ‘windy’ phenomenon
  • Katrina hit the city about 3 days before a New Moon

IOW: Everything was absolutely perfect for her. She herself in conjunction with a spring tide shattered the barrier layer.
The rising tide near to the high Spring Tide would have entirely stalled the flow of mud out into the Gulf
As far as Katrina could see, the Mississippi itself was Red Hot to Trot

Even better, the endless heat dome that sits on the southern states would have seen hot dense dry air pouring off the land at exactly that time of year (OK, the very hottest time would be about 3 weeks prior)
That hot dry dense air would have undercut the warm moist ‘ocean’ air within Katrina, superheating the moisture it contained and also giving it bodily lift
i.e. It egged Katrina on – begged her to come ashore

She sensed the hot muddy water piled up by the tide (and 100 miles upriver) in the mouth of the Mississippi, she was given lift & vorticity by the onshore heat dome and she went for it – She Had No Other Choice.
Solar Ponds be damned and she summarily trashed the thing even if it did exist

And so she followed the Energy/sugar trail – slamming right into the mouth of the Mississippi.
Where a lot of people were clustered, living beside the seaside because of the clement weather that large bodies of water always create.

Turn the clock back for Katrina = in the picture of Mississippi outflow and Gulf circulation.
You can easily visualise the path around the Gulf that Mississippi Mud takes and you see roughly/exactly where Katrina strengthened and weakened = where she crossed the flow of mud that is always coming off that river.

The Katrina disaster was entirely man-made
Else Katrina would have remained out at sea and no-one would have ever been any the wiser.

Muddy water and heat dome brought her ashore.
If you want a scapegoat, just one name: make that name = John Deere

Overturning orig.PNG
Jim Steele
Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 1, 2023 8:49 am

Peta you are the master of ” a thousand meaningless words” showing you totally missed the point.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
October 1, 2023 12:32 pm

I have been off the mouth of the Mississippi many times and it is not always turbid, especially in hurricane season. Once coming out of the river in a sailboat was not the best as those who discovered it found out. For decades have wondered about ocean effects having been in or run from hurricanes since 1960. I also studied the Chandeleurs after Celia and flew over them after Katrina and have discussed this question with at least two meteorologists.

As Steele stated there is not enough known about continental shelf idiosyncratic currents and upwellings; some have been called “fingers” and there is at least a little bit of a literature. There is also something called “oceanic double-diffusion.” His figures are simplistic but useful. On the Texas coast there have been rare occasions when summer temperatures just offshore were 14 degrees F below the ~30 degree C the Gulf usually is and even reported in the press. If anybody knows how widespread this is I haven’t found it.

I would like to to have the references for Arnand and Miles. If T on the ocean has a recognized effect on hurricanes then let’s study it.

Jim Steele
Reply to  hdhoese
October 1, 2023 6:22 pm

MILES(2023) Ocean mixing during Hurricane Ida (2021): the impact of a
freshwater barrier layer.

If you dont have access I can email you the pdf

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 2, 2023 8:12 am

Thank you, got preprint immediately. You might be interested in these. Incidentally the Mississippi River is the only major one that extends down some 60 miles over the shelf. Depths within 5 miles of the mouths in the hundreds of feet. Critical feature is cyclones piling water on the east side, water then moving west, lots of wind fetch in Lake Pontchartrain explaining lack of towns on western side.

Weatherly, G., N. Wienders and R. Harkema. 2003. Temperature inversions in the open Gulf of Mexico. J. Geophys. Res. 108(C6):1-8.
Open access, off the continental shelf, most near the surface but at different depths, attribute it some to river water moving offshore in early winter

I first encountered this from Hurricane Allen with three pressure pulses, which while still large lost a lot of power close to the coast. Lawrence, M. B. and J.M. Pelissier. 1981. Atlantic hurricane season of 1980. Mon. Weath. Rev. 109:1567-1582.

Also this is now available online, both learned quite a bit, Stommel had to explain less precise ocean operations to someone used to precise ones. Interesting comments about models.
Stommel, H.1987. A View of the Sea: A discussion between a chief engineer and an oceanographer about the machinery of the ocean circulation. Princeton Univ. Press. 165 pp.
Keep at it, have been reading your posts. HDH

Jim Steele
Reply to  hdhoese
October 2, 2023 11:38 am

Thanks for the Weatherly (2003) paper link. His studies showed “About half of the 1482 temperature profiles obtained seaward of the [GOM] shelf break had one or more temperature inversions,”

It doesnt reveal which inversions would become hurricane intensifying thick barrier layers, but suggests barrier layer formation is ubiquitous.

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 3, 2023 7:03 am

I asked a meteorologist who had done a master’s on hurricanes about Allen. He suggested that it was more likely atmospheric material, but the older (<~1982) models seemed better. Long story but the measurements of oceanographic conditions off the river have been dominated by the not so “dead zone” model preoccupation with the bottom. It is real but shrimpers back then told the biologists they trusted that it was not new and locals knew about collecting beach fish after a rare summer norther, no doubt a “jubilee” from offshore currents producing inshore upwelling. The literature has cleaned this up in the last couple of decades. Whether these are enough to do more than barely buffer a storm might be the question. Biologists are interested because the question of inshore recruitment has not been resolved either which is where I learned about model problems. We have been aware of these ‘lenses’ for a long time. Nitrogen is the Gulf demon, even called such by a biologist who studied these. Gulf modelers have only lately discovered that the ocean is 3-dimensional, hard to believe.
Scavia, D., D. Justić, D. R. Obenour, J. K. Craig and L.Wang. 2019. Hypoxic volume is more responsive than hypoxic area to nutrient load reductions in the northern Gulf of Mexico—and it matters to fish and fisheries. Envir. Res. Let.14(2):024012

From Miles “Salinity observations are severely lacking in this region by global scale ocean observing systems that support operational ocean models coupled to hurricane forecast systems. For example, between 1980 and 2022 only 7 Argo floats in the public archive ( have surfaced in the region defined by the NG645279 study-site northward to the coast, and within 50 km both east and west.”

Reply to  Jim Steele
October 5, 2023 6:31 am

More heat that might be of interest. In the Sept-Oct American Scientist there is an article–“Hurricanes Push Heat into Oceans.” Pay-Wall and the abstract is too vague to tell much. The article claims an after-effect pushes heat down “…hurricanes ultimately help warm the ocean, too, by enhancing the oceans’ ability to absorb and store heat.” There is nothing new about destroying thermoclines and producing currents and upwelling, but their figures are way too simple and they digress into coral bleaching using ‘may’ and ‘can’ a lot. American Scientist has had mixture of good science papers and policy types. You can get heat from the dissipation of kinetic energy which could be their point, but there are other sources. Their reference–
Brizuela, N. G., M. H. Alford, S-P. Xie , and J. N. Moum. 2023. Prolonged thermocline warming by near-inertial internal waves in the wakes of tropical cyclones. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.
120 (26) e2301664120

Also ran across this. Mexico is producing a lot of good marine and estuarine science. They show the river plume in Fig. 2 and actual references earlier than this century including Leipper who was on my masters committee. In this work of his he concluded that Hurricane Hilda reduced surface temperatures 5 degrees C over an area of 70 by 220 miles. Leipper, D. F. 1965. The Gulf of Mexico after hurricane Hilda. Tex. A & M Res. Found. Off. Naval Res. Cont. 21196(04):1-22.
Portela, E., et al. 2018. Hydrography of the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans. 123(8):5134-5149.

Joseph Zorzin
October 1, 2023 2:51 am

“Superheated ocean waters hold a lot of extra energy…”

Oh, that’s right – the oceans are boiling! I almost forgot!

Tom in Florida
October 1, 2023 5:09 am

Ocean temperatures are controlled by solar energy, right? Why else would the Gulf of Mexico cool off in winter and warm up in summer. So the so called “superheated ocean waters” cannot be created by the atmosphere. So global warming has nothing to do with it. Please no nitpicking about a degree or so at the surface, unless I am totally wrong.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Tom in Florida
October 1, 2023 6:34 am

Sun heats the GOM in two ways. DIrect solar heating as well as moving the ITCZ northwards which pushes the Loop Current deeper into the GOM

October 1, 2023 6:51 am

This is an excellent article, only issue I have is with the image showing track of Katrina. Katrina made landfall on Mississippi coast directly into Gulfport/Pascagoula. When actual historical facts are altered people lose all confidence in “authorities” of any brand. NO was devasted by storm surge and heavy rains overtopping poorly maintained levees.

October 1, 2023 8:30 am

Jim, you need to number your figures so we can properly critique them. “Right panel”, “middle panel”…just become meaningless on my iPad vs. laptop vs. smartphone.
sorta /s

Jim Steele
Reply to  DMacKenzie
October 1, 2023 8:54 am

DMack I agree and appologize. I originally wrote this as a tweet, where the graphics all needed to be grouped. When I edited it to send to WUWT I forgot to re-do the locations of the graphics .

Tom Abbott
October 1, 2023 5:49 pm

NOAA started out the hurricane season claiming hurricane numbers would be above normal, and then they changed it to “near normal”, so given the dearth of hurricanes so far, it looks like they need to revise the forecast again to “below normal”.

No doubt the climate alarmists are unhappy that they haven’t had a chance to hype more hurricane/CO2 scary stories.

Mumbles McGuirck
Reply to  Tom Abbott
October 2, 2023 8:18 am

Actually, the Accumulated Cyclone Energy for this year is above the climatological average.

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