The 2017 hurricane season is the most active since 2005. Seven hurricanes, including Harvey, Irma and Maria have ripped through areas such as Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, devastating a countless number of people and leaving behind many questions regarding the relationship between global warming and hurricanes.
“While there is no clear evidence of an increased number of hurricanes in a warmer world, there is evidence that the hurricanes are becoming more intense,” Jennifer Collins, Associate Professor in the School of Geosciences at USF, said, “studies have also noted that in a warmer environment, we should see more storms which undergo rapid intensification. We have seen such rapid intensification with Hurricane Wilma, Rita, Katrina, Patricia, Harvey to name a few.”
Alexis Black, Environmental Specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and recent USF graduate shares a similar thought regarding the relationship between the two.
“[C]limate change, in context of the 2017 hurricane season, has created conditions conducive to increasing storm intensity since atmospheric and oceanic temperatures are warmer than in the past. Hurricanes feed of warm weather to form, and climate change is allowing hurricanes to form and migrate through the Atlantic and our region with increased intensity,” Black said.
Research from NASA’s Earth Observatory also acknowledged the connection between rising temperatures and hurricane strength, stating that a more humid environment creates a possibility for the development of stronger hurricanes while also saying that global temperature increase will decrease the overall number of storms that form. Fewer storms with higher intensities have the potential to cause immeasurable amounts of damage to tropical coastlines.
Regarding the current hurricane season, which comes to an official end on November 30, there have been several storms ranked Category 4 or stronger. Two of these storms classified as Category 5. This uncommon occurrence is not the only record that was updated this season.
“It is certainly uncommon – this is only the 6th time it has ever happened. This is also the first year that has seen two Atlantic storms make landfall in the continental United States as a Category 4 (Harvey, Irma) in the known record dating back to 1851,” Collins said, ” it is the first hyperactive season since 2010.”
Unfortunately, this hurricane season has not yet officially ended.
“We are only just past the peak of the season and still in the peak hurricane season … so there is still plenty of opportunity for another Category 5 to occur this season,” Collins said, “we need the right ingredients to be present in the Atlantic, such as warm sea surface temperatures, low vertical wind shear and high humidity. These conditions are present quite frequently in some places of the Atlantic.”
It is widely known that the current president and his administration are not in favor of the Paris Agreement to fight climate change and have even threatened to back out of the agreement if the carbon emissions pact is not altered, per CNN White House Producer, Kevin Liptak.
“I think it is a huge deterrent to making progress on fighting climate change. The United States is one of the greatest producers of greenhouse gases in the world, and thus would substantially impact the globe’s progress to fight climate change if it diminishes its emissions. This is an international effort and requires participation from all to make a substantial impact in this fight. The current administration is putting the country in a situation where we will not be able to combat climate change independently or rely on other countries to combat climate change as an unit if it withdraws from this agreement,” Black said.
Due to steady increase in global temperature, looking ahead to future hurricane seasons is important.
“It is reasonable to believe that the 2018 hurricane season could be just the same or worse than the current hurricane season, due to the likelihood of atmospheric and oceanic temperatures remaining at or increasing from what they are now. But, in the end, no one can truly say what will happen when 2018 comes around since weather is unpredictable,” Black said.