MadSci Network: Earth Sciences
Query:

Re: Is global warming making storms like Katrina hit my home?

Date: Wed Jul 26 22:12:19 2006
Posted By: Stephanie Shaw, Post-doc/Fellow, UC Berkeley Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 1150746394.Es
Message:

Hi Barry -

Thanks very much for writing to Mad Scientist Network. You have asked an 
important question that many climate scientists have been working very 
hard on.

The answer to your question is that it is impossible to say whether or 
not any individual hurricane (like Katrina) or snow storm or drought is 
caused by global warming. Weather events like these depend on many other 
factors as well as temperature. All we can talk about is if the chance a 
hurricane is formed, or its strength, may be larger because of higher 
temperatures from global warming.

We can figure this out if we look at the physics of how hurricanes form. 
Hurricanes form when the ocean is warm enough to evaporate large amounts 
of liquid water to gas. Once in the atmosphere the water eventually turns 
back into liquid to form clouds and rain, and warms the surrounding air 
as a result. As the air warms it expands, and creates a region of low 
pressure. This low pressure causes the winds to spiral and form a 
hurricane. 

So in general, the warmer the ocean surface is the more likely it is that 
a hurricane can form. Also, the warmer the ocean surface is the more 
likely it is that any hurricanes that do form are stronger. (For example, 
a category 4 or 5 compared to a category 2 or 3 hurricane.) But itís 
important to remember this just tells us what is likely due to basic 
scientific principles. This can not tell us what actually happened on any 
day for any hurricane.

Right now many scientists believe that historical data and computer 
models do NOT show that the number of hurricanes has increased 
significantly due to global warming. However, they do believe that on 
average hurricanes are getting stronger. So the chance of a hurricane 
hitting any place isnít higher, but those that do exist are likely to be 
more destructive than those in the past.

I very much hope that you do not have another hurricane coming near your 
home.

Stephanie



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