Did global warming cause hurricane Irene?
Scientists can't say that global warming caused hurricane Irene or Katia or tropical storm Lee. But they can say that global warming produces the conditions that lead to hurricanes. Americans should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for severe weather to come.
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Furthermore, we know that hurricanes begin to weaken after they make landfall and must return to the warm oceanic waters offshore to rebuild their intensity. As the autumn water temperatures of the Mid-Atlantic Bight continue to rise each decade, hurricanes like Irene will be able to strengthen and more frequently carry their destructive forces further north to New Jersey, New York, and New England.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Hurricane Irene
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So, what does this all mean to the average American on the street? Well, since hurricane Irene just pushed 2011 past 2008 in the record books for the most billion-dollar weather disasters in a year, it certainly seems logical that people should expect higher taxes.
Because no matter what a given state’s political leaders may think about global climate change or taxes, they all expect help from the federal government when extreme weather disasters strike. Whether it's droughts and wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma, tornados in Missouri and Arkansas, floods in Tennessee and Mississippi, or hurricanes in North Carolina and New Jersey, the lineup of states seeking federal assistance keeps getting longer and longer this year.
Can we blame global climate change for all of these extreme weather disasters in 2011? Again, the simple answer is no, we cannot attribute global climate change as the cause for any one of these disasters. However, the more important take-home message is that scientists predict all of these types of extreme weather disasters will become more and more common as the planet warms.
Therefore, it would seem to be more prudent and cost effective to stop ignoring the effects of greenhouse warming on our weather. Wisdom would also have us begin reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and preparing our society for the impending weather disasters already in the pipeline.
Charles H. Greene is a professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University.