As your Storm Pundit, I've already had much to say about this year's puzzling Atlantic hurricane season. Indeed, I've called the year "schizophrenic." But now, the Houston Chronicle's crack science reporter Eric Berger has done an entire story on what the season does and doesn't mean, and that allows us to go further.
Recall that the season started out like gangbusters with two Category 5 hurricanes, Dean and Felix. But since then we never had another hurricane above Category 1. Granted, we've had 14 named storms in total -- above the long term average. However, the lack of any more long lived or intense hurricanes means that the season's "Accumulated Cyclone Energy" is far below what was predicted, and it seems less and less likely at this point that any whopper storm will come along to change that.
So what can you conclude from this season? Well, experts seem split. As Berger reports:
...scientists who believe global warming is having a measurable effect on hurricanes say climate change is more apt to influence the intensity of systems, rather than the overall number.
"Two Category 5s in a slow year argues in favor of the climate change hypothesis, as the per-storm intensification rate was quite high this year," said James Elsner, a Florida State University hurricane scientist who believes global warming is affecting storm activity.
Yet some hurricane scientists who are uncertain whether hurricane activity would already be showing a measurable effect from global warming say having two Category 5 hurricanes in a single season may not be much of a rarity in the Atlantic....
There wasn't satellite coverage of the entire Atlantic basin until 1966. And early flights and satellites weren't nearly as comprehensive as the modern technology and forecasters that now track these systems.
In other words, even as recently as 15 or 20 years ago, it might have been easy to miss a storm that reached Category 5 status for only a few hours, as is often the case.
"Obviously, we have many more tools today," said Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center. "But 20 years ago we could have easily missed it. Imagine 50 or 100 years ago."
I am quoted in Berger's story several times -- and the story makes a point that I also made in talking to Berger, namely, that one year is not really much evidence of anything. Still, thanks in part to the weather, you have to admit that the momentum has died down a bit in the hurricane-global warming argument compared to where things stood immediately after the 2005 season, when hurricanes ravaged this country.
Thank goodness we won't get that kind of destruction every year. No one ever really thought we would. But what troubles me is the whole "out of sight, out of mind" phenomenon that seems to occur with hurricanes. We need years and loads of research to suss out whether there are long term trends, but we could have another major hurricane disaster in this country in any year, including 2008.
As Prince Hamlet put it: "The readiness is all."
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.