New Science: Global Warming Strengthens Hurricanes, May Be Inevitable

A new “Science” journal article by a group of meteorologists reports a striking 80% increase worldwide in the abundance of the most powerful hurricanes during the past 35 years (also known as cyclones and monsoons). Because the results were similar across the globe, the scientists discounted natural variability as the cause. Entitled “Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment”, the scientific study is the second in six weeks to connect climate change's warming of oceans and intensified hurricanes. Global warming and hurricanes are naturally linked by the storms’ feeding upon ocean heat. Tropical storms draw their energy upward from warm ocean water to drive their winds.


The bottom line is we can not assume that Hurricane Katrina was a once of a lifetime event. This is not alarmist – it is prudent given the potential for dramatic climate change caused disasters in the future. Displaying customary scientific caution, we are advised not to blame Katrina’s damage on global warming. Other factors such as densely populated coasts may be more causative of increasing storm damage. And no long-term trend in the number of storms per year has been found.
Yet, in the absence of other studies proving otherwise, the state of the science is that hurricanes are stronger as a result of global warming. This is consistent with what climate change science has long predicted – and what we know about how hurricanes form. Sure there are questions, there always are with science. There is not yet certainty, but we are way past the point where we can afford to ignore the matter.
Another forthcoming study indicates serious climate change impacts are inevitable given the state of melting Arctic ice. On the basis of record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer, scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.
There continues to be a huge failure of American climate change leadership, as generally policy-makers and the media are not seriously discussing the possibility that Hurricane Katrina was intensified by global warming. Bush's global warming failure goes beyond not ratifying Kyoto. There has been not a word post-Katrina about increasing preparations for climate change, or limiting emissions to move towards climate stabilization.
This head in the sand response is dangerous and irresponsible. We must get to the ecological root causes, responsible for the severity of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, in order to prevent and/or minimize future disasters enabled by collapsing ecosystems.

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2 Responses

  1. Stephen Berg says:

    Risbey, Braganza, and Homer-Dixon's article in today's (September 19) Globe & Mail is an excellent discussion on the connection between Hurricane Katrina and climate change. If possible, ClimateArk should put it on their news bulletin.

  2. marjo hannele says:

    While I do think Katrina was at least an indirect result of climate change, the term has become far too synonymous with anthropogenic 'global warming'.
    If the future of our planet is truly of concern to us, the big picture scenario of unavoidable, possibly catastrophic, change should prompt us to move people to more suitable locations if we want to avoid populations increasingly becoming evacuees.
    But what is of more paramount importance is to minimize the effects of a collapse of our very fragile technological infrastructures. Minimizing emissions is like building sancastles as the wave is coming in.

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