Going beyond the hype...

Is it real? Is it Hype? Is it Hot in Here? GreenhouseTruth.com, an unbiased portal for climate change resources and news is the proud home of Nathan Cool's new book, Is it Hot in Here? where these and other questions about a potentially warming world are revealed in their simple, and sometimes sobering truth.

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Global Warming Blog

The Weary Eye of the Tropical Storm Season
Why earlier cries of a severe 2006 Atlantic hurricane season and links to global warming have changed their tunes
Posted August 23, 2006 by Nathan Cool

Right before the summer season got underway this year, nerves around the country-- especially along the fringes of hurricane alley--were still shaken from memories of Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and the other storms comprising the 28-named cyclones that formed in the Atlantic in 2005. Numerous reports were issued earlier this year by reliable sources, warning that more cyclonic devastation would arrive in 2006. Around this same time, a wide range of climate change compendiums comprising books, documentaries, and special news broadcasts, quickly jumped on the ever-popular global warming gloom-and-doom bandwagon, pointing the finger of blame at climate change. An uneasy consensus formed in the minds of many, linking a dismal future of storm-ravaged coastlines to the burning of fossil fuels and smokestack spewing power plants. Yet here we are, nearing the end of August, and the Atlantic has yet to see an actual hurricane. Being now bored with the idea of a warming world, the media has turned their attention from melting glaciers to the alleged killer of JonBenet Ramsey, as the topic of climate change lost its sensationalistic appeal.

Some media story spinners are known to have a bit of ADD, shifting attention rather quickly from one story to the next, cherry picking the juiciest head-turning tidbits to draw in our attention and boost their ratings. But even though the hurricane season has become ho-hum this year (thus far) doesn't mean the issue of global warming and tropical storms can be swept under the proverbial rug. Is it real? Is it hype? Is there really a link to global warming and hurricanes? The issue may be more serious than we realize.

As of this writing, four meager tropical storms have developed in the Atlantic: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, and Debby. None of these though ever got enough oomph to earn the moniker of "hurricane." In the meantime, the Eastern Pacific has been busy with Aletta, Bud, Carlotta, Emilia, Fabio, Gilma, Hector and Ileana, some of which pleased surfers along the California coastline with some summertime waves before fizzling out on a sojourn out to sea. And it should be noted that the western Pacific has been quite busy with Typhoon Saomai recently killing over 400 people in China, and Typhoon Wukong battering the coast of Japan. Worldwide though, things don't seem to be all that out of the ordinary. Or do they?

In May of 2006, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued a report stating that 2006 had an 80% chance of seeing an above normal hurricane season. Recently, the CPC downgraded that prediction with another report (August 8, 2006) stating that there is still a 75% chance of an above normal hurricane season. AccuWeather issued a dire report earlier this year as well, warning of impending impacts from hellacious storms that could wreak havoc on east coast locales this summer. Adding fuel to this fire, Al Gore, in his latest book, An Inconvenient Truth said:

... unless we act boldly and quickly to deal with the underlying causes of global warming, our world will undergo a string of terrible catastrophes, including more and stronger storms like Hurricane Katrina...

Well, here we are, nearing the end of August 2006, when at this time last year, numerous hurricane records had already been broken and Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast. By this same time last year, 12 storms had already been named in the Atlantic, 5 of which were intense hurricanes--today though, the score is zero...no hurricanes thus far. If one is to associate global warming to hurricanes, it may appear that such a link is not feasibly possible. But if we take a closer look, something more ominous appears in the cloudy crystal ball of climate change.

In my new book, Is it Hot in Here?--The simple truth about global warming, I devote a plethora of pages to the issue of hurricanes and their links to a warming world. Certainly, without a doubt, this complex issue does not lend itself easily to mere yes or no answers. Yet many sitting on the pro-global warming side of the debate--who peddle the power of hurricanes as global warning gloom--are merely adding fuel to the fire burning in the nearby skeptic camp while creating a profusion of confusion with their smoke signals. While it is true that oceans have warmed in recent times and that hurricanes do indeed feed on balmy tropical waters, this is only one of myriad elements that dictate the strength, ferocity, frequency and quantity of tropical storms.

According to the CPC's most recent report, there are many reasons why the Atlantic is not seeing such an intense hurricane season this year, including an unexpected change in weather patterns, a slight drop in tropical Atlantic water temperatures, a reduction in convection near the dateline, and lower vertical wind shear among other things. Sounds like good news right? Well, not exactly.

One of the reasons why tropical Atlantic water temperatures and convection over the Equator have been reduced this year, is that extensive drought in Africa, brought on by climate change, has increased massive dust clouds off the African coast. These massive clouds of dust block out incoming sunlight, causing a solar dimming effect (like that describe in chapter 4 of Is it Hot in Here?). Additionally, we're now quickly swinging into another El Niño, which tends to put the kibosh on rising hurricane columns, as described in detail in chapters 3 and 5 of Is it Hot in Here?. This though is disturbing as the continuation of the quickly changing ENSO cycle is another harbinger of a warming world. So while global warming may not be the hot button inconvenient hurricane issue that some have evangelized in recent times, much more is afoot.

Weather and climate are two distinct sciences. Each is linked to the other, yet they are indeed unique. Hurricanes are weather systems. Global warming is a climate issue. While there are harbingers of hurricanes in the cloudy crystal ball of climate science, El Niño frequency, drought, extensive dust and many other such factors are products of a warming world, inextricably linked in a delicate dance with Mother Nature.

Are hurricanes going to become more intense as some say? Will our coastlines be persistently pummeled by storms formed in seas of increasingly warmer waters? A single reading, season or storm does not form the basis for any theory, not even that of global warming. Data compiled over time though most certainly does--which also distinguishes weather from climate. Many uncertainties abound in the field of climate change research though, and to take a bold step and sermonize that the sky is falling should be pursued with words of watchfulness. After all, the simple truth about global warming and the effects it can bring can indeed be elusive--and in a burgeoning field of climate science, quite complex.

More information on hurricanes, El Niño, ENSO cycles, solar dimming, African dust, links to global warming and other topics discussed in this blog can be found in my new book, Is it Hot in Here?--The simple truth about global warming. Click here to get your copy.