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Experts tie hurricane changes to climate change

TAMPA — Climate change may be triggering an evolution in hurricanes, with some researchers predicting the violent storms could move farther north, out of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where they have threatened coastlines for centuries.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean begins Monday, and forecasters are predicting a relatively quiet season. They say three hurricanes are expected over the next six months, and only one will turn into a major hurricane.

Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane in a decade, and researchers are increasingly pointing to climate change as a potential factor.

There is a consensus among atmospheric researchers studying the connection between global warming and hurricanes that centuries- old patterns may be shifting, said Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“There are a few things we agree on,” he said, “and a few things we don’t know much about.”

He said researchers generally agree that the frequency of high-intensity storms, Category 3, 4 and 5, will increase as the planet warms. “By how much? There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

The second generally accepted theory is that with rising sea levels, storm surge could become more of a threat than wind. “The sea level is going up and will continue to go up,” he said.

Rain also is expected to increase during hurricanes, he said. “It’s in widespread agreement that as you warm the climate, hurricanes will rain a lot more.”

Other theories of how climate change affects hurricane activity are still being researched, he said, and there is some disagreement among scientists. One is the frequency of less intense hurricanes, the Category 1 and 2 storms.