To begin, it is important to define
climate change. Climate change can be defined as “any systematic change in the
long-term statistics of climate elements such as temperature, pressure, or
winds that are sustained over several decades or longer” (Glickman 2000). This
change may be caused by any combination of: natural influences, such as changes
in the energy being emitted from the sun, changes in the orbit of the earth
around sun, volcanic activity, fluctuations in ocean and atmospheric
circulation, human activity such as fossil fuels burning.
The Washington Post stated that this
year’s hurricane season has proved to be among one of the most active Atlantic
hurricane seasons to be recorded. Most of which took place between August and
September, the typical period in which hurricanes and tropical storms tend to
peak. However this year in particular has been more torrential than usual. Hurricane
Harvey produced disastrous flooding throughout the Houston, Texas area (CBS
News). The category 4 hurricane dropped a record breaking amount of rain, about
50 inches, over Houston, Texas alone. It has been about twelve years since a
hurricane has been this powerful and devastating. According to the Greenpeace
Organization this has led scientists to question whether or not this phenomenon
is a coincidence or if there is a connection between this sudden spell of catastrophic
hurricanes and climate change.
According to the Geophysical Fluid
Dynamics Laboratory, climate change does have an impact on a number of different
kinds of events – including hurricanes (or tropical storms to give them their
universal name). But the relationship isn’t simple. It seems that climate
change will increase the number of the most powerful tropical storms. But not necessarily the total
number of storms. Tropical storms may also carry more water as the planet
warms, making flooding worse.
The impact of a warming planet on
hurricanes is also regional – not everywhere is affected in the same way. There
is often a desire to label a particular event as being caused by climate
change. However, this is difficult. The simplest way to express the
relationship in ordinary language is to say that climate change is altering the
patterns of some disasters.
A useful analogy is health issues
that are caused by multiple lifestyle factors. It is not possible to say that someone
had a heart attack due to their consumption of bacon. But a lifetime of eating
a copious amounts of bacon, combined with other factors, make suffering from a
heart attack more likely.
There are a few lead scientists that
have been studying to determine whether or not climate change is intensifying
the recent storms. It is difficult to determine if there is a clear-cut
relationship between the change in climate and natural disasters. Yet, it is very
likely that the rising temperature of the ocean is the cause for such troubling
weather. The likelihood of human activity influencing global warming and
hurricanes is minimal, however still impactful enough for scientists to
research this further.
Human influences on the state of the
climate has a solid chance of worsening the conditions of future hurricanes.
With hurricanes possibly intensifying, the destruction of these hurricanes
would in turn increase as well. Research shows that not only will global warming
increase the intensity of hurricanes, but it will more likely than not increase
the frequency of hurricanes to come. In conjunction with an increase in global
climate, the rise in the atmospheric moisture content will most likely affect
the amount of rain that will accompany these hurricanes. The rising sea levels
also hold responsibility for an escalation in hurricane severity.
Experts argue that a warmer climate produces stronger storms and is
actively occurring already. Research done by Florida State University
climatologist Jim Elsner has shown that the maximum speed of hurricane winds have
significantly increased since 1981. This is due to the fact that increasing
ocean temperatures greatly fuels the intensity of hurricanes. Hurricanes are
responsible for redistributing the heat and moisture throughout the atmosphere.
Tropical storms take the heat from the ocean and distribute it back into the
atmosphere in the form of moisture.
Research on the frequency of
hurricanes is harder for scientists to pinpoint. As hurricanes are responsible
for redistributing the heat and moisture in the atmosphere, it is likely that
this decreases the amount of hurricanes in the future. One large and
catastrophic hurricane may account for the impact that several smaller
hurricanes could have on the environment. However, if there is a significant
growth in atmospheric temperature, that makes for adequate conditions for
hurricanes to brew. Scientists tend to be split on whether or not the number of
hurricanes will increase or decrease.
Evidence of the environment’s role on hurricane development
has been noted since the early 1950s, yet a major milestone was achieved by
Kerry Emanuel at MIT in his studies of hurricane dynamics in the late 1980s.
His idea was to consider hurricanes as heat engines that can extract heat from
the ocean surface and exhaust it at the upper troposphere. In this way, Emanuel
was able to obtain a mathematical expression showing how the maximum potential
intensity a hurricane can attain in a given environment depends on sea surface
temperature and temperature near the top of the atmospheric troposphere around
14 kilometers, or 8.8 miles, above the sea. A warmer sea surface temperature
would result in a higher intensity, according to Emanuel’s formulation.
Scientists are, however, confident
about the fact that climate change does amount to higher storm surges. Even if
the storms do not become more powerful or more frequent, the higher sea level
calls for stronger storm surges. In addition to stronger storm surges, the rate
of rainfall is predicted to increase by 7% for every degree Celsius in the
temperature of tropical sea surfaces.
Sneed, A. (2017, October 26). Was the Extreme 2017 Hurricane
Season Driven by Climate Change? Retrieved October 31, 2017, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/was-the-extreme-2017-hurricane-season-driven-by-climate-change/
News. (2017). How Houston’s hospitals are coping with Harvey
Global Warming and Hurricanes. (2017, October 26). Retrieved
October 31, 2017, from https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/global-warming-and-hurricanes/
Kieu, C. (2017, September 13). Is climate change affecting
hurricanes? What we do — and don’t — know. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/does-climate-change-affect-hurricanes/
Erdman, J. (2017, October 2). 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season
Among Top 10 Most Active in History. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/2017-atlantic-hurricane-season-one-of-busiest-september
J. ( May, 24) Climate Change and the
Insurance Industry. Second Edition. Pg. 35
Angela Fritz. (2017). Harvey. Irma. Maria. Why
is this hurricane season so bad? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2017/09/23/harvey-irma-maria-why-is-this-hurricane-season-so-bad/?utm_term=.449305ffce59