Hurricanes have taken the news by storm. Before and after Harvey and Irma hit the United States, every newspaper ran front page articles about their paths and people’s preparation. Every news network hailed their viewers with a torrent of repeating prediction animations. Newsday ran a series about ex-Long Islanders in Florida. Not to rain on the parade, but pundits have been foggy about the cause of these storms. This is a missed opportunity to talk about global warming.
These storms have surged to break records. Irma became one of the strongest recorded hurricane in the Atlantic with wind speeds of 185 mph. Irma also set a world record for most intense storm for a long duration when it maintained 180 mph wind speeds for a full 37 hours. Hurricane Maria deluged two feet of water over Puerto Rico, knocking out the entire island’s power for what may be months. It was the strongest hurricane to strike Puerto Rico in 85 years. This was the first time there have been two Category 5 hurricanes in a single season since 2007. Talk about a rain of terror. Yet major coverage does not refer to how these storms are affected by global warming.
Hurricane season is far from over. Katia struck a Mexico weakened by an 8.2 earthquake. Jose brushed past Long Island and New England. While it was smaller than Harvey and Irma, it still took over the news cycle. The season officially ends Nov. 30. Who knows if we will see hurricanes Nate, Ophelia or Phillipe. If the current trend continues, we will not be able to afford to ride out this storm.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration names an average of 12.1 storms a year. 6.4 gain the title “hurricane” on average and of those, 2.7 are considered to be “major hurricanes,” meaning that the wind speeds reached higher than 110 mph. This year we have already had 13 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes. And there are still two and a half months left in the season.
Why does it seem like no one is mentioning the cause of all these storms?
Ocean temperatures are rising. The sea surface temperature has risen an average of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade from 1901 to 2015. This increase has been more pronounced for the last three decades. It should be noted that warmer oceans do not increase the likelihood of hurricanes, but they do increase the strength of these already gargantuan storms. An average hurricane puts out an equivalent to 200 times the entire Earth’s electrical generating capacity every day. There is literally a quote from NASA saying, “during its life cycle a hurricane can expend as much energy as 10,000 nuclear bombs!” That is what we are dealing with.
News organizations are meant to educate people. Especially in a time when media organizations and scientists are attacked for reporting the truth, coverage of incidents that are direct causes of facts like global warming should be reported as such. Every reference to increased hurricanes, horrible heat waves and generally wacky weather should include some mention of global warming or climate change. Of course it is nice that stations and papers take the time to write about it in feature pieces after the main coverage of the events. But we should see some – from a brief mention to a short paragraph to a section of the report – dedicated to how this event was caused by global warming. Hopefully raising awareness will drill it into our minds that we need to take care of our only planet to stop and ultimately reverse our current trend toward climate disaster.
With this education, people can prepare during the calm before the storm. Hopefully the next catastrophic hurricane will get rained out.