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Climate Change and Hurricanes

With the approach of Hurricane Irene, climate activists are reminding us that more intensive hurricanes are produced by warmer water, so that global warming over time will increase the severity and frequency of storms. This is true, and it is frightening. Some climate scientists even think we need a “level 6″ category for new, fiercer storms.

Climate is extremely complex, so that global warming won’t proceed in a straight line, something that helps the skeptics (most of whom are motivated by secret payments from large corporations or are under influence of same).

Right now, the Atlantic is in a warm cycle of 10 to 15 years. During the warm cycle, hurricanes are more frequent and more powerful. The warm cycle this time is slightly warmer, because the average surface temperature of the earth and its oceans has increased over the past century. Thus it is true global warming contributed to Irene’s wrath. But climate change activists should be careful to acknowledge the contribution of the warming cycle.

After the warming cycle, the Atlantic will turn cooler. Global warming may mean it won’t turn as cool as it otherwise would, but the cooling will nevertheless make for less dramatic hurricane seasons for a while in the 2020s. Climate change can only be measured over decades, not by individual events or even short patterns.

In other global warming news, a new study shows that weather cycles appear to correlate with increased violence in tropical countries. If the El Nino/ La Nina correlation holds up, it is a horrifying harbinger for what is likely to happen in those countries during the coming century of higher temperatures produced, not just cyclically, but by long-term warming produced by dumping masses of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Juan Cole talks about how Global Warming contributes to stronger hurricanes. Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground (the website, not the 1960’s terrorist group) describes how exactly the process works:

Sea surface temperatures 1° to 3°F warmer than average extend along the East Coast from North Carolina to New York. Waters of at least 26°C extend all the way to southern New Jersey, which will make it easier for Irene to maintain its strength much farther to the north than a hurricane usually can. These warm ocean temperatures will also make Irene a much wetter hurricane than is typical, since much more water vapor can evaporate into the air from record-warm ocean surfaces. The latest precipitation forecast from NOAA’s Hydrological prediction center shows that Irene could dump over eight inches of rain over coastal New England.

Over 300 people were arrested for protesting destructive environmental policy outside of the White House last week. It seems more than a little ironic to me that people who aren’t hurting anyone are being arrested while the people that are causing this warming trend (and thus the accompanying hurricanes, droughts and diseases) are being ignored or rewarded.

Filed under Juan Cole Climate Change Hurricane