June 21, 2018

Columnist wrong on climate change — ROBERT HASTINGS COLUMN

17 September 2017, 06:55 | Regina Holmes

EDITORIAL: The timing couldn't be better to press for climate change action

COLUMN: Tropical storm Harvey ignites the climate change debate

Since 2006, there has been only one year in which there were no major hurricanes, and that was 2013, a relatively mild year that only had 13 named storms. Harvey rapidly intensified as it approached land, an incredibly unsafe trait also exhibited by other hurricanes within the last 20 years, like Wilma in 2005 and Patricia in 2015.

There's a scientifically accepted method for determining if some wild weather event has the fingerprints of man-made climate change, and it involves intricate calculations. While this is understandable in times of crisis given that governors are the faces we associate with state leadership, it misconstrues the nature of their position. Cerveny is the rapporteur on climate extremes within the United Nations-affiliated World Meteorological Organization.

Due to the wide areas impacted by Harvey and Irma, nearly everyone knows someone living in one of the affected zones and/or has personal recollections of visiting those regions at some point in time.

At its height, Irma was a huge storm, a high-end Category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of over 185 miles per hour. Irma was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall. In fact, the USA dealt with these two major storms in only a little over two weeks.

Hurricane Harvey is a climate disaster.

But are we seeing the impact of what this theory predicted, at least in hurricanes?

Q: The hurricanes seem bigger and stronger than previous years. As they continue to study natural disasters and the escalating weather, there is an embryo of evidence suggesting that hurricanes could spin into historically unaffected areas over the next few decades. There are signs that climate change can influence hurricanes in several different ways. Warm water more easily saturates the atmosphere, which loosens it in a rage. It's also because half of the ten most powerful storms have occurred since 2000, not counting Mitch (which was in 1998).

Oppenheimer and some others theorize that there's a connection between melting sea ice in the Arctic and changes in the jet stream and the weather patterns that make these "blocking fronts" more common. I'd add that Harvey and the others are fueling something else: an urgent debate over whether this is what a changing climate looks like. A simple reading of these public records (along with turning to the resource of one's own memory) I counted 183 such storms for the period 2006 thru 2017 including Harvey and Irma.

The force and intensity of these hurricanes were fed by warmer waters of our warming climate. Climate is "long-term", while meteorology is "short-term".

In general, though, climate scientists agree that future storms will dump much more rain than the same size storms did in the past. So in general the models are indicating an overall greater variability in some aspects of climate (greater floods but also more intense droughts) with a warming planet. Nevertheless, Dennis and I watched the news with great concern as we saw Texas cattle country being deluged and knew the distress that the owners of those livestock must be feeling as their animals became stranded or worse. The awful destruction of today's hurricanes does resemble those of much earlier years. By changing the environment from the Florida marshlands (e.g., Everglades) to massive urban and suburban landscapes, humans have dramatically increased the damages associated with hurricanes.

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