Since 2000, there have been many hurricanes that have caused significant damage to the United States in terms of property and lives. From the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2006 to the 2012 Hurricane Sandy, it is easy to regard hurricanes as one of the most dangerous natural threats to human cities. Just in the past week, Hurricane Harvey has inflicted serious damage in Texas, including one human casualty and at least twelve more injured. It hit the coastal city of Rockport, Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, and in addition to the human injuries, there have also been “uprooted trees, toppled signs, flagpoles that snapped like toothpicks and clusters of bricks peeled like scans from walls and rooftops”, according to Ray Sanchez at CNN.
Science provides an explanation for the seemingly increased intensity of hurricanes. Many scientists now agree that climate change is correlated with hurricanes. The basic explanation for this is that climate change is causing global temperatures to rise. Rising temperatures then increase storm intensity. Because tropical storms and hurricanes gain energy from warm water, the rising ocean temperatures that have come about due to climate change are likely increasing the intensity of storms. In addition, Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University adds that increased moisture in the atmosphere leads to more rain during storms.
Andrew Dessler at A&M University presents yet another link between climate change and storm intensity. Because rising temperatures are causing the ice caps to melt, sea levels are rising. As a result, storm surge is far more likely to occur with higher intensity, which can be devastating to infrastructure and human lives. The National Climate Assessment states that “the models generally show an increase in the number of very intense” storms, which given the damage these storms can wreak, is something that we ought not to take lightly.
Scientists maintain that climate change is not causing hurricanes but is affecting them in ways that are dangerous to human civilization. Dr. Hayhoe says that “we care about a changing climate because it exacerbates the natural risks and hazards that we already face”. While this may not be a straight answer, it is important to understand how this process is truly occurring in order to be best prepared for its effects. We should be prepared for more intense storms, and this includes more rain and more storm surge. Until ocean temperatures return to their previous level, this should be our expectation. All denial does is leave us unprotected and unprepared, so we should all do the best we can to understand the science!