With the onslaught of multiple storms, this 2017 Hurricane Season was very active and destructive. Harvey dumped “more than 51 inches, the greatest amount of rain ever recorded in the continental United States,” says an article in the Huffington Post. Irma, according to the US National Hurricane Center, was the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic. Maria left Puerto Rico with scenes of “apocalyptic” destruction. Jose had an effect on the northern Atlantic US and now Ophelia is threatening Europe.
Hurricanes are nothing new. There are records of storms causing destruction from the early 1900’s. Though, these storms were very impactful because of a lack of accurate path prediction, causing many people to be unprepared.
So were these recent storms normal? No.
Hurricanes usually form in the warm waters off the west coast of Africa, where the combination of strong winds whipping off the continent meet with the warm waters and winds of the eastern Atlantic.
The powerful weather events of this current hurricane season were amplified by a warming ocean. Warm water acts as jet fuel to hurricanes. It helps them form. It makes them stronger. It sustains them for longer. It provides them with more moisture and energy. As one NOAA scientist states: “All of these storms went through a period where they gained strength quickly…..That was alarming.”
These storms followed paths with above-average ocean surface temperatures. These storms are definitive cases where we can see real time, with real impacts, how climate change is affecting our planet.
So, when our weather events are clearly getting stronger and causing greater damage, we need to be aware and start a conversation about how we can stymie this unnerving trend. The term politicization has a negative connotation and has been used in derogative ways by climate change deniers and GOP pundits.
The matter of the fact is that there needs to be political action on climate change, and if using these storms as evidence that it is real, is happening now, and is going to cause a significant amount of destruction in the future if we don’t take action, then yes, we should be politicizing these storms. Whatever their reasons be, oil lobby money, self-interest, lack of political courage, or aversion to scientific facts. The public needs to demand action on climate change now-before category 5 storms making landfall becomes the new summer normal.