Climate Change may be Responsible for Severity of Hurricanes

By Rachel Gobep

In light of recent hurricane activity in the Caribbean and southern United States, professionals at Youngstown State University expressed their thoughts on the cause of these natural disasters.

Sept. 2017 was the most active month for hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean since the 1960s, according to Jeffrey Dick, chair of geological and environmental sciences.

“At the same time, Pacific Ocean hurricane and tropical storm activity has been relatively low,” Dick said.

Climate change refers to the long-term change in the Earth’s climate or the climate of a region, according to NASA.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association defines the formation of a hurricane as when the maximum sustained winds of a tropical storm reach 74 mph.

Hurricanes are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 according to intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Categories 3 to 5 are considered to be major hurricanes.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 in the Atlantic Basin, but the most active month is September, said Bill Buckler, geography professor at YSU.

On Aug. 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 mph. CNN reported that Harvey was the first Category 4 to hit the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004.

Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane on Sept. 6 on the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands. It later made landfall in Cuba and hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 on Sept. 10, as reported by CNN.

According to a report by CNN, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 hurricane and was the strongest storm to make landfall in Puerto Rico in 85 years with sustained winds of 145 mph.

“This was the first time that we have had two Category 4 hurricanes in the same year. That’s unusual,” Buckler said.

Dick said he believes it is easy to attribute the increased activity in the Atlantic to climate change, but conclusions cannot be drawn from a single season.

“Looking at earth from a historical perspective, climate change is the norm and not the exception,” Dick said.

Buckler teaches weather and severe weather, soils and water systems at YSU and said climate change will result in more major hurricanes, not an increased number in hurricanes.

The stronger category hurricanes that occurred in September are an indication of more severe storms in the future, he said.

“We are in the midst of global warming and whether some people want to believe it or not, the science is very clear. Not only is the atmosphere warming up, but the oceans are warming up,” said Buckler.

Buckler defines hurricanes as nature’s way of moving energy from one place to another. He said hurricanes in the Atlantic basin move excess energy from the warm oceanic waters in the tropics.

According to a report by the Washington Post, a poll conducted by ABC and the Washington Post in 2005 a month after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans showed that 39 percent of Americans at the time believed climate change helped fuel Katrina’s intensity.

Today, 55 percent of those who participated in a poll conducted by ABC and the Washington Post believe that the hurricane intensities in September 2017 were fueled by climate change.