A few weeks back I posted some comments that were critical of those willing to leap to conclusions concerning the linkage between global warming and hurricane intensity. An article in the October 10 National Review by Patrick J. Michaels, senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Insitute and professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, brings some additional clarity to this discussion.
Professor Michaels first suggests that the increase in hurricane frequency in the Atlantic basin over the past several years may not really be that significant; it may be simply returning to previous high levels experienced in the 30’s, 50’s, and 60’s. The same finding applies to hurricane intensity – we may simply be returning to previous high levels in the 40’s and 50’s.
But of even greater interest is the discussion of whether a link to global warming could ever have an impact on the strength of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Consider this quote: “One of the peculiarities of hurricane behavior is that there is a threshold, at 28 degrees C, where storms reach an intensity of Category 3 (“severe”) . (In the last 50 years there have been just two such storms over cooler waters.) But once the temperature exceeds 28 degrees C, there is no relationship between warmer water and intensity.”
As it turns out, the Gulf of Mexico is above 28 degrees every August. And it has been for some time. So, even if we are warming, it’s not going to affect these hurricanes. There is more good stuff in this article, but I leave that for you to digest. (I also publicly thank my very smart friend and colleague, Ralph Whitten, for pointing this one out to me.) If Professor Michaels has a book on this subject, I’m interested in reading it. Though I’m not an expert on climatology, he makes a lot of sense.
I also think politicians should take a Hippocratic oath of sorts before they go launching into remedial efforts aimed at global warming. In other words, before changing the status quo, first be sure you are not doing harm.