Earth Day Network

There’s a Storm-a-Brewin’

Hurricane Matthew and Climate Change

How do hurricanes happen? What makes them so destructive?

As Hurricane Matthew recently demonstrated, hurricanes are some of the most violent storms that happen on Earth. Most hurricanes form over warm water near the equator. They are known as large storms that form over the Atlantic Ocean or the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Scientists call hurricanes tropical cyclones, no matter where they form.

Hurricanes carry a lot of power. They can pack wind speeds of over 160 miles per hour, as well as more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain water per day. Hurricanes need warm water and warm surface temperatures to form. They are also devastating, dangerous, and becoming more and more frequent per year.

Why are they becoming more frequent?

Most have come to the conclusion it is a direct result of climate change. It is possible that because of rising temperatures, the world is experiencing an increase in the occurrence of hurricanes.

In relation to fossil fuels and global warming, as the planet heats up, the oceans expand due to the melting of polar ice sheets. This causes an increase in tide lines, as well as elevated ocean levels in general. Tropical cyclones form over water, and rising water levels make their storm surges even higher, posing a greater threat to coastal regions.

How does this relate to Hurricane Matthew?

The United States gets 81% of its total energy from oil, coal and natural gas—which are all fossil fuels. As a result of the increased usage of fossil fuels, (i.e., heating of homes, industrial manufacturing, etc.), they are burned more frequently, and release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

Hurricane Matthew is a warning sign. Anthropogenic warming could cause the average strength of tropical cyclones to increase significantly. In order to understand this relationship better, we need to increase the amount of research done in this area. The positive side of the destruction wrought by tropical cyclones in recent years – if one is to be found – is that there is a growing interest in learning more about the connections between weather patterns and climate change. The increased severity of hurricanes, along with rising temperatures and melting polar ice caps, are all linked in some way to the way mankind interacts with the Earth’s environment.

 

William Pappas, Intern