Wednesday March 20, 2019
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Rise in Temperature of Atlantic Ocean Causes Severe Hurricanes: Study

Even as hurricanes get stronger and more numerous, forecasters may be able to get ahead of the game, or ahead of the storm, and ultimately save lives.

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Hurricanes
Destroyed communities are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. VOA

A new study is blaming 2017’s unusually high number of hurricanes on the Atlantic Ocean’s rising surface temperatures. The report is one of the first to suggest that human-driven global warming is actually causing more hurricanes.

The study published in last week’s journal Science also predicts that as warming increases over the next 50 to 100 years, about two more hurricanes on average will form annually than we get now. In addition, those hurricanes will be stronger and wetter.

‘The new normal’

It’s a common refrain in these days to refer to outrageous weather events as “the new normal,” but those claims have been hard to quantify. Scientists do know the Earth is getting warmer, and evidence shows humans are contributing to the problem. But scientists have warned against attributing individual weather events to changes in climate, explaining that weather and climate are two different things.

But by any standard, 2017 was a tough year for people living on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Hurricane Harvey turned parts of coastal Texas and the city of Houston into a watery mess. And Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico so badly, the island only completed its power restoration projects in August of this year.

Hurricanes
Interstate Highway 45 is submerged from the effects of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. VOA

Using a new climate model, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began studying a particular swath of warming tropical Atlantic water near the equator. Speaking to VOA, author Hiro Murakami says water was especially warm last year and their model predicted about two more major hurricanes than usual. In reality, there were two more than average.

Get used to it, Murakami says. When this area of Atlantic water gets unusually warm, as it did in 2017, the U.S. should expect at least two extra hurricanes a year, he explains, adding that as the planet warms, that area of the Atlantic should heat up more and more often.

“Last year we saw six major hurricanes,” he said. “But these six could be eight major hurricanes in the future given the same summer conditions.”

That’s bad news for people who live near the coast and for the government officials who have to prepare for the massive storms.

Climate Change, Hurricanes
Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C.. VOA

Tom Delworth, another NOAA researcher who contributed to the study, says the new model can predict not only what’s going to happen this season, but also “100 years in the future.” And, he says, “50 to 60 years in advance, later in this century, the most intense storms will become even more intense category 4 and 5. They will be even stronger.”

Delworth and Murakami say their model is also applicable to typhoons in the Pacific, and warming waters there should have a similar effect in regions getting battered by those late summer storms.

Future hurricanes

Both researchers pointed to the unique value of the model in being able to predict hurricanes in the next week, the next month and the next century. However, they admit that while their model can fairly accurately predict what the hurricane seasons will look like in the months and years ahead, it can’t predict specific storms.

What good is it to know that more hurricanes are coming if we don’t know exactly where and when? Delworth says it can be incredibly empowering for first responders as they prepare for any given hurricane season. “Let’s have a lot of emergency supplies on hand,” he suggested, as an example, “because we think this is going to happen.”

Also Read: Paris Adopts Climate Change Action Plan, Aims At Achieving a ‘Zero Carbon’ future

He also says that every year, little by little, modelers and climate scientists are getting better and better at what they do. “That’s a very optimistic thing,” Delworth said. So, even as hurricanes get stronger and more numerous, forecasters may be able to get ahead of the game, or ahead of the storm, and ultimately save lives. (VOA)

Next Story

Students Worldwide Skip School to Protest Government’s Failure against Global Warming

They're angry at their elders, and they're not taking it sitting down

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global warming, climate change
Students from different institutions hold placards and banners as they participate in a climate protest in New Delhi, India, March 15, 2019. VOA

They’re angry at their elders, and they’re not taking it sitting down.

Students worldwide are skipping class Friday to take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming.

The coordinated “school strikes,” being held from the South Pacific to the edge of the Arctic Circle, were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament last year.

Since then, the weekly protests have snowballed from a handful of cities to hundreds, driven by social media-savvy students and dramatic headlines about the impact of climate change.

climate change, global warming
Students attend a protest ralley of the “Friday For Future Movement” in Berlin, Germany, March 15, 2019. VOA

Thunberg, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was cheered for her blunt message to leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this year, when she told them: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

Friday’s rallies are expected to be one of the biggest international actions yet. Protests were under way or planned in cities in more than 100 countries, including Hong Kong; New Delhi; Wellington, New Zealand; and Oulo, Finland.

In Berlin some 10,000 protesters, most of them young students, gathered in a downtown square, waving signs with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and “Climate Protection Report Card: F” before a march through the capital’s government quarter. The march was to end with a demonstration outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office.

Organizer Carla Reemtsma, a 20-year-old university student, said social media had been key in reaching people directly to coordinate the massive protests in so many different locations, noting that she was in 50 WhatsApp groups and fielding some 30,000 messages a day.

“It’s really important that people are getting together all over the world, because it’s affecting us all,” she said.

Critics, supporters

Some politicians have criticized the students, suggesting they should be spending their time in school, not on the streets.

“One can’t expect children and young people to see all of the global connections, what’s technically reasonable and economically possible,” said the head of Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, Christian Lindner. “That’s a matter for professionals.”

climate change, global warming
Students hold signs during a rally for global climate strike for future in Seoul, South Korea, March 15, 2019. VOA

But scientists have backed the protests, with thousands signing petitions in support of the students in Britain, Finland and Germany.

“We are the professionals and we’re saying the young generation is right,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of engineering at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

“We should be incredibly grateful and appreciative of their bravery,” said Quaschning, one of more than 23,000 German-speaking scientists to sign a letter of support this week. “Because in a sense, it’s incredibly brave not to go to school for once.”

Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect. In 2015, world leaders agreed in Paris to a goal of keeping the Earth’s global temperature rise by the end of the century well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Yet at present, the world is on track for an increase of 4 degrees Celsius, which experts say would have far-reaching consequences for life on the planet.

“As a doctor, I can say it makes a big difference whether you’ve got a fever of 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 Fahrenheit) or 43 C (109.4 F),” said Eckart von Hirschhausen, a German scientist who signed the call supporting striking students. “One of those is compatible with life, the other isn’t.”

Other action

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have publicly welcomed the student protests, even as their policies have been criticized as too limited by environmental activists.

In France, activist groups launched legal action this week for failing to do enough to fight climate change, citing a similar successful effort in the Netherlands.

climate change, global warming
Hundreds of schoolchildren take part in a climate protest in Hong Kong, March 15, 2019. VOA

In Germany, environmental groups and experts have attacked government plans to continue using coal and natural gas for decades to come. Activists say that countries like Germany should fully “decarbonize” by 2040, giving less-advanced nations a bit more time to wean themselves off fossil fuels while still meeting the Paris goal globally.

Other changes needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions include ramping up renewable energy production, reining in over-consumption culture now spreading beyond the industrialized West and changing diets, experts say.

“The fight against climate change is going to be uncomfortable, in parts, and we need to have a society-wide discussion about this,” said Quaschning.

ALSO READ: The Flamboyant Plastic Waste Boat Reminds The Global Policy-Makers The Urgency To Address Impact Of Plastics on The World’s Marine Environment

That conversation is likely to get louder, with several U.S. presidential hopefuls planning to campaign on climate change.

Luisa Neubauer, one of the Berlin group organizing Fridays for Future, said politicians should take note of the young.

“For the European elections in May, we’re urging everyone to think about whether they want to give their vote to a party that doesn’t have a plan for the future and the climate,” she said. (VOA)