Florence, Hurricanes and Climate Change

It is never too soon to talk about human caused climate change in relation to hurricanes. This is a bed we made and we are now sleeping in it.

Rather than yammering on and on about how a warmer atmosphere is a damper, but also more evaporation-inducing (and thus drying), and energetic atmosphere, and about how warmer air going over warmer sea water produces more and bigger storms globally, and all that, I’ll point you to some resources below.

But first I want to address two misconceptions: 1) that you can never attribute to a particular storm the effects of climate change THIS IS FALSE and 2) that climate scientists believe that Atlantic hurricanes will become less and less of a problem with climate change THIS IS ALSO FALSE.

On the attribution. Let’s say there is a disease with a 50% mortality rate. But then a treatment is invented that reduces that to zero. We use the treatment widely and nobody dies of it any more. Then, you get the disease, are cured, and go on a public speaking tour in which you espouse the greatness of this cure.

But one night, while you are speaking in front of a large audience, someone stands up and says, “Hey, wait one darn minute there! You might have been one of the 50% that would have lived! You can’t say that this cure did ANYTHING. Faker!”

The audience, realizing that the cure does not actually work, stands up and walks out.

Was that fair? Was what just happened in this scenario a honest, thoughtful turn of events?

With climate change it is a little like that. People who want to deny the importance of climate change, including journalists still stuck in the false balance mode (if there are Senators in the Senate claiming that human caused global warming is a hoax, then we must consider that as equally likely as what all the world’s scientists are saying), pull the attribution rabbit out of the hat all the time. Since you can’t yada yada. Even some climate scientists used to say this because the were badly trained in what to say.

Indeed, the binary (cure/not cured) I gave you above is not really like climate change. The fact that ALL the sea surfaces in the tropics and sub tropics — every single square centimeter — are on average (and in fact most of the time, for most of the seconds of most of the days, all year) anomalously warm, all of the tropical weather systems are affected all of the time. Fail to understand that at your peril.

The second falsehood, that Atlantic hurricanes will become less of a problem, is perhaps even more pernicious. There once was a study that seemed to show that some of the climatic conditions that would attenuate tropical cyclones, denying them the chance to form into hurricanes, would become more common in the Atlantic. This is probably true. However, the climatic conditions that cause tropical storms to form and advance to hurricane stage are also increased — different effects — and these effects have the added bonus of causing hurricanes to form much more rapidly and sometimes (perhaps often) grow much larger and, by the way, exist farther north. Indeed, if Florence does reach Category 5 for a short time today or tomorrow, it will be the farthest north Cat 5 hurricane ever in the Atlantic.

Here’s the thing. We will see periods of time when hurricanes that might have formed, say, 20 years ago, won’t. But we will also see periods of time when more and bigger and worser hurricanes form. The actual average number of hurricanes in the Atlantic has not gone down, but rather, stayed fairly stable, over recent decades. The frequency of large and dangerous hurricanes globally has gone up, and that trend is probably observable in the Atlantic.

Point is, we are not seeing a decrease in Atlantic hurricane activity or impressiveness, and we are seeing records being broken with respect to time to formation, size, strength, etc.

Climate Signals has a page on Hurricane Florence. They point out that sea level rise and coastal storms are a significant coastal erosion threat. warmer waters make for more and bigger hurricanes, keeping the hurricanes big longer, and making them form faster. These hurricanes are wetter.

Indeed, we have replaced the term “Biblical Flooding” with “Harvey Size Flooding” since we no longer have to imagine it.

Here is a helpful video:

This graph showing the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane activity.

Finally, an interview with Michael Mann, author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, on Florence in which Mann points out ways in which climate modeling predicted greater severity of hurricanes. That set of predictions included, by the way, an increased tendency for Atlantic hurricanes to hit the US:

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.