US meteorologists discuss link between hurricanes and global warming

Hurricane seasons have been getting stronger the past decade in the tropical Atlantic, but does climate change have any role in the activity?

2008 has seen one of the most intense tropical seasons in the Atlantic basin in recent memory, with ten named storms and five hurricanes, including three major hurricanes, and the peak of the hurricane season only just passed last week.

Two, Gustav and Ike, have caused extreme devastation in the United States. And with rising ocean temperatures, the warm water being the fuel for the storms, many are beginning to wonder aloud about whether or not climate change is beginning to play a role in the tropics.

Though the general consensus in the weather community is that hurricanes would ultimately strengthen and increase in numbers with global warming, a number of American meteorologists say there is no evidence that this is occurring yet.

“There isn’t any evidence to suggest that this year’s active hurricane season is related to global warming,” says Dan Kottlowski, an expert senior meteorologist at US-based AccuWeather.

Kottlowski says the primary driving mechanism behind the recent string of active tropical seasons is a cyclical pattern of increased ocean patterns. Kottlowski points to other notable stretches of active hurricane decades in the 1950s and 60s as proof.

“We’ve seen active stretches like this before over time,” Kottlowski says.

Throughout the 19th century, major hurricanes have made landfalls in fluctuating periods along the US coast. In 1938, a huge hurricane blasted the northeast United States, an area of the United States typically bordered by cooler waters. And just recently, Tropical Storm Gustav passed over New York and Boston, dousing the metropolitan areas with several inches of rain.

Though unavailable for comment, the National Weather Service, America’s government-sponsored meteorological service, has repeatedly claimed that there is no evidence to say that climate change is playing a role in active hurricane seasons such as this one.

Kottlowski does not rule out that in several years, we may look back on the recent upward trend of tropical activity as the beginning of a climate shift.

“In the future, we may look back on this as the start of something,” Kottlowski says. “But there’s no firm evidence right now.”

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