It has been hypothesized that the word hurricane comes from the Spanish explorers, influenced by the word huracan, meaning evil spirit, from Taino Indians. It is then suggested that the Tainos probably attained huracan from Huraken, meaning God of Storms or bad weather, from the Mayans, according to University of South Florida, Exploring Florida: A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers website. As hurricane season progresses some scientists argue it is due to global warming while others oppose; but how would the warming climate stimulate the production of such horrendous storms?
An article publish on Time: Science website by Bryan Walsh claims that scientists have found stronger storms may develop as a result of hotter oceans because warmer air makes storms more powerful (BBC provides a good animation of how a hurricane is formed). As quoted in the article from meteorologist Kerry Emanuel, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Hurricanes are driven by the transfer of energy from the ocean to the atmosphere… as water warms, the ability of water to evaporate goes up, and a greater evaporation rate will produce a more intense hurricane” (Walsh, 2008).
Ocean temperatures have increased 0.5 degrees Celsius in the tropics since 1970. Researchers have estimated that a 1 degree Celsius increase in sea-surface temperatures could increase the frequency of category 4 and 5 storms by 31% and it is projected that ocean temperatures could increase up to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 (Walsh, 2008). Pew Center on Global Climate Change, located in Arlington Virginia, states that there is not a strong link between the frequency of hurricanes and global warming but studies are showing a clear trend of increased intensity of hurricanes with global warming over the past two or three decades. Furthermore, it is predicted that with the higher temperatures and precipitation we will see hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events more frequently. According to USF, the intensity of hurricanes strengthen until they hit cooler waters or come in contact with land; therefore, with a steady increase of sea water temperatures, there is no place for a storm to weaken when moving north.
Although scientists have considered global warming to be a major influence for the production of major hurricanes, there is still some speculation as to whether or not this is true due to the amount of hurricanes there has been in the past. In addition, current weather models cannot distinctly link the development of a major storm with global warming. As it states in the article, “It’s not just a simple relationship with sea-surface temperatures. It’s more complicated than that” said Judith Curry, chair of the school of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Time: Scienceby Walsh.
The Tampa Bay area has a 1 in 25 chance of getting a hurricane each season, notes the FloridaHurricane.net. Furthermore, according to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, 40% of all U.S. hurricanes hit Florida and 83% of category 4’s or higher have hit either Florida or Texas.
As stated in previous articles I have written, there are ways to decrease our carbon footprint on this earth; but skeptics still question if it is human activity that is causing global warming. As we continue with our debate the earth continues to warm, and we will continue to experience more severe storms. I cannot stress it enough that humans should take it seriously that we may be the cause of a warming planet, and even if we are not, perhaps we just simply owe ourselves and the generations ahead of us a healthy planet and a breath of fresh air.