In recent media interviews, I keep getting asked the same question: Where are our hurricanes? Aren't we having a quiet season? It's almost as if, following Katrina and a widespread sense that hurricanes are in some way tied to global warming, the public has come to think that the failure of the former to appear means that the latter isn't anything to worry about.
The truth is that we're just now moving into the peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic: Most storms occur in August, September, October. Despite a quiet June and July this year, hurricane forecasters William Gray and Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University still say they expect 15 total storms (of tropical storm strength or higher) to appear (PDF). So far we've only seen two by their reckoning.
Meanwhile, as this August 4 image of the Caribbean's "tropical cyclone heat potential" demonstrates, there are already many stretches of ocean out there that are ripe for hurricane formation. The patches of orange and red denote deep columns of warm water, which can provide immense fuel for hurricane development.
So don't write off this year's storm season quite yet. The truth about hurricanes is that, because they're weather phenomena, sometimes it can seem as if the atmosphere throws a switch and suddenly they're everywhere. Inactivity can turn into activity in quite a hurry, as conditions become sufficiently ripe. During 2004, when Florida was struck by four powerful hurricanes, all occurred within the space of about six weeks. And the first storm in that year (Alex) wasn't named until August 1. This year, by contrast, we've already seen our C-storm, Chantal.
Meanwhile, scientists continue their vigorous debate over the relationship between hurricanes and global warming in general. A new study suggests that the total number of storms in the Atlantic has risen markedly over the past century -- but of course, other scientists disagree. For more on that debate, see here and here. One thing about the 2007 hurricane season is certain: It will provide one more year of data, helping us (albeit only slightly) determine which camp of scientists is right in this dispute.
Finally, it's important to keep in mind that hurricanes occur globally, and there has been quite a lot of activity of late in the northwestern Pacific region. In the past month two powerful typhoons have slammed Japan, and now another one (Pabuk, currently a tropical storm) is forecast to careen towards Taiwan and China within the next few days. However, so far Pabuk hasn't really been obeying forecasts -- so we'll have to watch it closely.
The Daily Green has asked me to follow storms this season and provide commentary on global warming and related issues -- so this will be the first post of many. I hope it has been illuminating, and there's much more to follow.
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