There has been a noticeable increase of hurricanes and named tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico this hurricane season because of the warmer water. These warmer conditions also cause more category three, four and five hurricanes to occur.
The 2017 hurricane season is only halfway through and there has been four major hurricanes and 13 named storms. In August, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted the season would have 14-19 named storms which is an above average amount.
According to the NOAA, there is an increased likelihood for an extremely active season because conditions that they predicted in May are present and will continue to be through the most active months of the season.
“These conditions include weaker vertical wind shear, weaker trade winds, more conducive wind patterns coming off of Africa, and a stronger West African monsoon.” (NOAA).
As reported by National Geographic, there are two factors present in the tropical Atlantic that stand out to MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel- winds speeds near the surface of the water and several miles up have little difference and the Atlantic is displaying a high thermal potential. These conditions cause tall hurricanes (hurricanes that are several miles high) to form rapidly and remain powerful.
In this season, the Atlantic will not only see a multitude of hurricanes but also many major hurricanes. The conditions stated before also fuel the fire for stronger hurricanes that will be able to maintain stability, meaning more high-intensity hurricanes that will be able to prolong their strength. National Geographic adds that “high-intensity (category three, four, or five) hurricanes will also become more common in coming decades.”
Before Harvey made landfall in Texas this season, it had been 12 years since a major hurricane made landfall in the United States. Scientists call this a “landfall drought”, but that can have many meanings. Some scientists may not even say there was a drought because the categories are only measuring wind speeds and not flooding, fatalities, or destruction. But, it’s clear that 12 years ago (in 2005) the U.S. had a surplus of major hurricanes, four category five hurricanes to be exact, and it has been a long time since we have had that many.
Scientists are working on finding a possible connection between the increase of extreme hurricanes and climate change or global warming. This is difficult for them because hurricanes only happen during a certain time of the year which makes it harder to observe a trend. A single storm cannot show the impact of climate change, so it will take a very long time to see the impact (if any) of climate change on tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.
“It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity,” the NOAA said. “[But] anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause tropical cyclones globally to be more intense on average.”
It could be centuries before scientists are able to tell if climate change and global warming have any significant impact on the increase in the number and strength of hurricanes in the Atlantic. For now, citizens should focus on the safety of themselves and others during the hurricane season and help out in their community or other communities in need.
Photo courtesy of CNBC photographer Carlos Garcia Rawlins