Thursday, June 01, 2006

Opening day??

The Atlantic hurricane season "opens" today. It has been promoted in the press like opening day of the baseball season, as if the president is scheduled to throw out the first water bottles to a stadium packed of storm-ravaged residents of Miami.

To mark the occasion, protesters have been gathered outside NOAA Headquarters in DC to demand "NOAA stop covering up the growing scientific link between severe hurricanes and global warming while insisting on real solutions to the problem of global warming". Here's the press release.

I'm as mad as anyone about the US government quieting scientists, especially with reference to news reports last fall that claimed there is no link at all between changes in hurricane intensity and climate change. I also think protests can be effective.

But in the word of my friend Howard Berger, who works in tropical meteorology and forwarded the press release, a little knowledge can be dangerous.

My fear is that this group and many in the press are now being a bit loose with the science and may contribute to some unrealistic expectations.

Let's get one thing straight. There will not be any hurricanes today. There may not be any all month or for two months. This is weather and climate, we can make predictions, but we can’t print out a 162-game schedule for every town and city.

Yes, there is even more science – reported this week in the NY Times, the Toronto Star and other places – linking human-induced warming of sea surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic to hurricane development. Most climate models agree that the observed warming in the tropical Atlantic can only be explained if you consider the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The new argument is that tropical depressions and storms have, on average, been forming further to the east, such that they are passing over more of the warming ocean water, increasing the likelihood the storm develops into a strong hurricane. The science is still not definitive. And even if it were, it will not tell us exactly what will happen this year, next year or in any particular year.

The tragedy of Katrina and the news of a plausible climate change - hurricane link have thankfully led to more awareness of the destructive power of the tropical storms and hurricanes. They have also led to a ridiculous media feeding frenzy, like we are all watching the NASCAR race just for the crashes, to the point that if there are no destructive hurricanes this year, rather than celebrate the lives not lost and the homes not destroyed, people outside of vulnerable costal regions will be disappointed and maybe even start screaming that global warming is a hoax.

1 comment:

tim said...

I am expecting a very quiet season with very few hurricanes. That would be so funny. I don't think that most of people on this side will find it funny nor it will change their minds. Global warming or Global Climate Change is an ideology. People who are brainwashed by ideology do no take in account facts that don't support their ideology.