July 8, 2014
Hurricane Arthur – An Early Arrival Sign Of Climate Change?
Up and down the East Coast there were likely feelings that they dodged a “Fourth of July” hurricane bullet as Arthur came and went. It left rain and some damage but it was hardly a noteworthy storm — except for the fact that the media noted that it came rather early.
NBC News on July 3 noted that Arthur was the earliest hurricane to potentially strike North Carolina. But was Arthur really early?
The Guardian newspaper offered the headline “A hurricane in July on P.E.I.? Isn’t it a bit early?”
According to the National Hurricane Center, the season in the Atlantic actually begins June 1 and ends November 30. That means that a hurricane in July isn’t that rare. In fact, it is just that one hasn’t typically moved up and hit North Carolina — at least not since the records have kept on such things.
Dr. Adam Fenech, director of the Climate Lab at University of Prince Edward Island, wrote for the Guardian, “When we talk about hurricanes, we are really talking about large storms known as tropical cyclones,” and added, “Tropical cyclones are formed in warm tropical waters of at least 28 degrees Celsius closer to the equator. Heat is drawn up from the oceans creating a ‘heat engine’ of tall convective towers of clouds formed within the storm as the warm ocean water evaporates.”
Fenech further noted that June was cooler than “normal” and “drier,” so Hurricane Arthur was an odd tropical cyclone, but not really that unusual for this time of the year.
However, The Telegram also offered this headline recently, “Climate change means more storms, more risk of coastal erosion.” That headline is only partially accurate.
More storms could, in fact, mean there is a greater risk of coastal erosion, but climate change may or may not actually “mean more storms.”
According to the record books, 2005 had the most active season with 31 storms (it was also the first year to require going to the Greek Alphabet to name storms). Yet, 2006 only had 20 storms. As for storms increasing in number, we should remember that 1887 is tied for the third most active season record with 19 storms.
Then there is where the storms hit. In 1886, there were 12 tropical storms, 10 of which became hurricane and seven struck the United States — the most in a single year.
Then there is some of the conflicting reporting. The Telegram claimed “Climate change means more storms,” but yet, a year ago, Time magazine reported that a 2012 study said storms could become less common. A year later the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which commissioned the 2012 study, did an about face and then said hurricanes will likely get stronger and more frequent.
So which is it? In a year the researchers found that the previous study was wrong? Actually, this isn’t that difficult to understand, as other scientists also debate what the future may bring.
Even the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and NOAA are torn on the subject. In December, the two groups debated whether more or fewer hurricanes will occur in the future.
Now, as I’ve suggested in the past, I’m not a climate change denier, but I’m also not one to panic because of a single weather event. Sure, we should probably do something to be kinder to the environment, but scare tactics never help.
Fortunately, this time the media didn’t go overboard trying to suggest that Arthur is proof of climate change. Actually this is because it was much ado about nothing. This is something we need to consider, as well, and also remember that the hurricane season has been going on for a month. It is just that normally the storms are late to the party.
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