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Sep 10 2017
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Mike Knapp's picture

Arguing with physics

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What We Know about the Climate Change–Hurricane Connection

What about the increasing strength of these storms? Here, too, the science is fairly conclusive.

Whether or not we see more tropical storms (a matter of continuing research by the scientific community), we know that the strongest storms are getting stronger, with roughly eight meters per second increase in wind speed per degree Celsius of warming. And so it is not likely to be a coincidence that almost all of the strongest hurricanes on record (as measured by sustained wind speeds) for the globe, the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere, the Pacific, and now, with Irma, in the open Atlantic, have occurred over the past two years. A stronger storm means not only more damaging winds, but a bigger storm surge as well, adding to the coastal flooding impact of sea level rise.

Furthermore, a warmer ocean surface means more moisture in the atmosphere. A fundamental rule of atmospheric thermodynamics known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation indicates an increase of roughly 7 percent more moisture in the air for each degree Celsius of increase in sea surface temperature (SST). Global SSTs have risen now the better part of a degree C and conditions in which SSTs are several degrees C above normal are now more common as a result. Unusually warm SSTs contributed to the flooding power of both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irene in 2011.

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