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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
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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)

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European Union Agrees To Cut Greenhouse Gases Emission

EU countries are separately considering the extent to which truck emissions should be cut, with a debate due Thursday.

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In this slow-shutter zoom effect photo taken Dec. 12, 2018, commuters backed up in traffic during the morning rush hour, in Brussels, a city that regularly experiences pollution alert warnings. VOA

The European Union agreed Monday to a goal of cutting carbon emissions from cars by 37.5 percent in a decade, finally settling differences between vehicle-producing countries and environmentally-conscious lawmakers.

The 28-nation bloc has been divided for months over how strict to be on CO2 emissions from vehicles as part of its push to reduce greenhouse gases overall by 40 percent by 2030.

Germany, with the EU’s biggest auto sector worth some 423 billion euros ($480 billion) in 2017, had warned tough targets and the drive toward more electric cars could harm its industry and cost jobs.

Representatives of the European Parliament and the EU countries finally struck a compromise Monday, after nine hours of talks, to cut emissions from cars by 37.5 percent and vans by 31 percent by 2030 compared with 2021.

Climate, emissions
– Greenpeace activists wear white morphsuits as they stage an action against particulate matter and health burden caused by diesel exhaust in Stuttgart, southern Germany. VOA

There was also agreement on an interim target of a 15 percent cut for both cars and vans by 2025.

“This is an important signal in our fight against climate change,” said current EU president Austria’s Sustainability Minister Elisabeth Koestinger.

But Brussels-based green lobbying group Transport & Environment expressed disappointment the deal was not even more ambitious.

“Europe is shifting up a gear in the race to produce zero-emission cars. The new law means by 2030 around a third of new cars will be electric or hydrogen-powered,” said its clean vehicles director, Greg Archer. “That’s progress, but it’s not fast enough to hit our climate goals.”

The compromise was tougher than the original EU executive proposal of an emissions decline of 30 percent compared to 2021.

Climate change, emissions, Global Warming
U.N. Climate chief Patricia Espinosa (C) is flanked by officials during a press conference at the COP24 climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, VOA

Germany had endorsed that, but a push by several EU countries, including the Netherlands and France, raised the target for EU countries to 35 percent. The EU Parliament had wanted 40 percent, so in the end, they split the difference.

The German automobile association (VDA) said the new legislation would set high demands while doing little to promote or provide incentives for switching to electric vehicles.

EU countries were among nearly 200 that agreed Saturday to rules for implementing the 2015 Paris climate accord at a U.N. conference in Poland.

Also Read: Governments Have Failed to Respond Adequately to Climate Change at The U.N. Conference: Activists

“Today’s successful outcome is even more important in view of this weekend’s conclusions … in Katowice. It clearly shows, once again, our unwavering commitment to the Paris Agreement,” EU Climate Commissioner Arias Canete said.

EU countries are separately considering the extent to which truck emissions should be cut, with a debate due Thursday. (VOA)