More than half of Americans now live near a coast, and new residents continue to pour into hurricane-country states such as Florida (population 18 million). So the following comes as little comfort: In a warming world, hurricanes are likely to become "more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical [sea surface temperatures]," according to the latest findings from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents the work of about 2,000 of the world's leading climate scientists. (See: http://www.ipcc.ch/SPM2feb07.pdf).
So, hurricanes are likely to become stronger.
Will there also be MORE hurricanes than usual?
Well, there is an ongoing robust scientific debate about whether warmer ocean temperatures will affect the frequency of tropical storms. For example, the authoritative report mentioned above says there's no clear trend. Meanwhile, at least two recent peer-reviewed studies say global warming will spark more hurricanes. Stay tuned.
Scary images from 2005's Hurricane Katrina enhanced people's perception that climate change is happening RIGHT NOW. "What changed in the US with Hurricane Katrina was a feeling that we have entered a period of consequences," Al Gore said in that other climate-change touchstone -- his 2006 film "An Inconvenient Truth."
While no one can argue the storm didn't raise awareness about global warming sociologically, whether the perception is scientifically grounded is another story. In reality, no credible scientist could say global warming caused Katrina. That's because linking any particular weather event to climate change is too hard to prove. Plus, perhaps more importantly, it was a catastrophe predicted years in advance, as scientists warned a strong storm could break New Orleans' levees. As Time magazine reported in 2007: "The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics. Katrina was not the Category 5 killer the Big Easy had always feared; it was a Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans, where it was at worst a weak 2." (See: www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1646611_1646683,00.html).
For more info:
* Hurricanes & Global Warming: www.pewclimate.org/hurricanes.cfm
* "Path of Destruction" by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein, whose writings published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune warned the public of a Katrina-like event years before its occurrence: ww.pathofdestructionbook.com
*Learn all kinds of things about hurricanes preparedness tips, hurricane history, forecasts, and more from the National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov/index.shtml
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