Environment Science

Hurricanes and climate change: Are we on a collision course to our own destruction?

Written by Callum Murison

This year already, the Atlantic hurricane season has seen a large number of hurricanes and tropical storms forming.

There have been 12 tropical storms forming in the Atlantic Ocean so far this hurricane season, with many progressing into full power hurricanes: of those 12 storms, seven have become hurricanes. It is also the first season on record that two Category 4+ hurricanes have made landfall in the USA in the same hurricane season, and the destruction caused by those two hurricanes (Hurricane Harvey, Category 4; Hurricane Irma, Category 4), has been extensive.

But what reasons are there for this particularly active hurricane season, which still has two months to go?

Global warming and climate change have definitely played a factor. The surface sea temperature has risen alarmingly from the 1971-2000 average, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. This has subsequently led to warmer ocean currents. However, natural weather patterns also have a big influence: “El Niño”, which basically begins with a warm water current that flows “eastward along the Equator toward the coast of South America” from the western tropical Pacific Ocean, helps to limit the number of tropical storms forming in the Atlantic.

So how does climate change and global warming have a negative impact?

Tropical storms and depressions (areas of low pressure with generally high winds) form in the Atlantic Ocean. It is these areas of low pressure that eventually result in the formation of hurricanes. “The El Niño started turning more neutral, or even towards a La Niña, and that was one reason why the season started to ramp up.” This is the view of meteorologist Michael Priante working at WeatherWorks forecasting company in the US. El Niño helps limit the number of storms forming over the Atlantic through keeping water temperatures warm; La Niña (a cooler ocean current), doesn’t. However, climate change does have the effect of ramping up the power of these hurricanes, and “helps propel the power of the hurricane”. Climate change is also resulting in rising sea levels around the globe, so any storm surges that occur due to adverse weather are stronger and more destructive too.

So, in conclusion, the more-active-than-normal hurricane season that the US and Caribbean in particular are experiencing cannot solely be placed on climate change, and human activity. Weather patterns and ocean currents such as El Niño and La Niña normally have the biggest impact.

However, climate change has been found to increase the intensity of hurricanes and storms and this, in itself, could reap even more destructive impact in the future. Unless we act now, the situation could get worse: more lives could be lost; more homes destroyed; more countries battered by these weather phenomena.

Let’s avoid our own destruction. Let’s cut down on carbon emissions and prevent global warming.Let’s save lives.

About the author

Callum Murison

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