Hurricanes and Global Warming

With the approach of Hurricane Irene, climate activists are reminding us that more intensive hurricanes are produced by warmer water, so that global warming over time will increase the severity and frequency of storms. This is true, and it is frightening. Some climate scientists even think we need a “level 6” category for new, fiercer storms.

Climate is extremely complex, so that global warming won’t proceed in a straight line, something that helps the skeptics (most of whom are motivated by secret payments from large corporations or are under influence of same).

Right now, the Atlantic is in a warm cycle of 10 to 15 years. During the warm cycle, hurricanes are more frequent and more powerful. The warm cycle this time is slightly warmer, because the average surface temperature of the earth and its oceans has increased over the past century. Thus it is true global warming contributed to Irene’s wrath. But climate change activists should be careful to acknowledge the contribution of the warming cycle.

After the warming cycle, the Atlantic will turn cooler. Global warming may mean it won’t turn as cool as it otherwise would, but the cooling will nevertheless make for less dramatic hurricane seasons for a while in the 2020s. Climate change can only be measured over decades, not by individual events or even short patterns.

In other global warming news, a new study shows that weather cycles appear to correlate with increased violence in tropical countries. If the El Nino/ La Nina correlation holds up, it is a horrifying harbinger for what is likely to happen in those countries during the coming century of higher temperatures produced, not just cyclically, but by long-term warming produced by dumping masses of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The problem is accelerating in danger and urgency. US carbon emissions were up by 4 percent in the past year, in part because of increased use of coal. That should be a hanging crime. I hope some lawsuits over climate change damage eventually get traction, whether domestically (as happened eventually with smoking) or internationally, at the WTO or GATT. Americans respond to property issues.

11 Responses

  1. Because global warming is complicated for some people to understand; because “debunking” amounts to finding an ‘exception to the rule.’ and many people don’t understand the fact that mislogic is being applied to their noggins.

  2. Not quite perfectly accurate, Juan.

    There is open debate over how global warming will affect hurricanes, but the current expectation is that while higher SSTs will increase intensification and severity, that increased wind shear over the Atlantic might act to prevent formation and reduce frequency (at least of Atlantic basin hurricanes — the ones that hit the US, so the ones that ‘matter’ in the US-centric media). And the frequency question is the least well understood.

  3. Prof. Cole,

    It’s not exactly accurate to say, “global warming over time will increase the severity and frequency of storms”. The truth is, that’s still an area of very active research. If you’re looking for a consensus, the closest I think you’ll come is to the proto-consensus that it looks like a warmer world might see slightly fewer, but stronger tropical cyclones.

    Warmer waters are just one of the variables of cyclogenesis. Wind shear is also a factor, and is also expected to increase in a warming world.

    link to

    I’d also like to note that I think the SciAm article is problematic at best. Bill Gray may be a legend in tropical storm circles, but he’s no climate scientist and his views on the role of ocean-atmosphere oscillations vs. anthropogenic influence on warming the ocean are decidedly non-mainstream. As you correctly note, the Atlantic is warmer due in part to the AMO, but anthropogenic warming is responsible for not just a little, but perhaps more than half, depending on the method used to try to calculating the relative contributions of each.

    That means that a negative AMO might not mean a “cool” Atlantic, but rather a return to the still-above-average early to mid 1990s conditions.

    I’m happy to recommend some names of specialists in TC behavior if you’d like to know more. Anyway, I am glad to see people in the foreign policy field giving more coverage to climate issues.

  4. I think the whole problem with the global warming debate is that the message of the perils of global warming is not getting to the people that would be most affected: the poor.

    I hate to say this but, the marketing is wrong. When I read or watch a program about global warming, the message is always expressed in scientific terms that, to be honest, those who are poor don’t understand. And by no means im making an argument for the poor being collectively dumb.

    A good start is to start explaining, in everyday talk, will reach more people and especially those who suffer the most from the affects of global warming.

    • What’s needed are people who can write & speak with the same clarity that Rachel Carson & Gene Likens did in the 60’s.

      Climate Change Yea-Sayers most often remind me of pentecostal preachers, Apple fan-boys & Microsoft evangelists. Seems I’m just expected to believe them – well I don’t take heed of the God-botherers, Job’s fan-boys or Gate’s evangelicals either.

      BTW I’m neither uneducated, nor poor, but I am a bicycle riding conservative vegetarian who doesn’t own a car.

      Here’s another finding that they need to factor into the climate model malaise link to

  5. Irene is, fortunately, not living up to the intensity forecasts of a few days ago. It was fairly tough on the Bahamas, but better to wait until after the storm to speak of its ferocity.

  6. Professor Cole,

    I would appreciate it greatly if you would not duly alarm the masses, most of whom think “The Day After Tomorrow” was climate science and are now even now planning to flee to the less-frozen Texas_Mexico border to escape the frozen wasteland that used to be New York City.

    Thank you. Thank you very much.

  7. If the scientists did add a higher category, would that now be enough evidence for the masses to accept climate change?

    Would it influence the deniers?

    Lawsuits? Holy cow! Remember how Big Tobacco did the denier/ anti-science dance to avoid the inevitable future lawsuits? And you wonder why big business is behind the deniers? If only they would stop focusing on short term gains, the eventual damages to themselves and the world would be so much less.

  8. Recommended very intelligent and intelligible reading:
    Finding Higher Ground:Adaptation in the Age of Warming by Amy Seidl;Beacon Press, c. 2011.
    Global warming is here and this literate Mom cites environmental evidence common to anyone. Adaptation is occurring; better to observe and adapt as well than see which politician wins the verbal battle.

  9. I have been thinking about an open-ended method of hurricane rating for a while now. I gather that every 50 mile-per-hour incremental increase in a hurricane’s sustained windspeed gets it a higher number up to Five. So why not continue raising the rating by the same increments?
    Every 50 mph increase gets another number. Also, why not rate hurricanes according to how “wide” they are? A hundred
    mile wide hurricane could be assigned the letter A, a hundred and fifty mile wide hurricane could be given B, a two hundred mile wide hurricane could be given C, and on up.
    So a huge low-windspeed hurricane could be a 1-G or a small
    high-windspeed hurricane could be a 4-B, and so forth.

    By the way, perhaps we should think about open-ended rating increases for tornados too. F6, F7, etc.; if tornados rotate faster than before.

    Phil D, a popular science writer who wrote a little book of some clarity on the subject called Hothouse Earth ( by John Gribbin) might be a small part of what you want.
    link to He is no Rachel Carson, but then, who is? Only Rachel Carson, and she’s dead now. Other people have been writing books but I can’t remember their names. There is someone who has been setting up timelapse photo-cameras overlooking various glaciers and icecaps to capture their growth or shrinkage, and so far he has been capturing mainly shrinkage. It is called the Extreme Ice Survey. link to One can look at the pictures of retreating ice in place after place to see the real effects made visible.

  10. One of the most shameful things about the global warming argument is the way the integrity of climate scientists has been impugned by the likes of Imhofe and Perry. The stress this puts on these people must be unbelievable, and I think there should be some defamation lawsuits.

Comments are closed.