Global Warming and Extreme Weather

Reader Contribution by Richard Hilderman and Ph.D.
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Over the past few years we have seen an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes, winters, massive floods, heat waves and droughts.  So far this year we have witnessed in this country an increase in devastating tornadoes, snow and floods.  This devastation causes loss of life, property and takes a tremendous emotional toll on people.  All of this costs the taxpayer millions upon millions of dollars!  The current global warming trend is responsible for some if not all of the extreme weather we have witnessed in recent years.  In this posting we will discuss how global warming has increased the frequency of hurricanes, extreme winters and massive floods.

Most hurricanes mature in the tropics but some can mature in the temperate zones. One of the keys in creating a hurricane is that the ocean temperature must be above 80 degrees Fahrenheit for a storm to reach hurricane strength. At the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season storms usually mature in the southwestern part of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. By late July the tropical ocean temperature has warmed up to allow storms to develop in the Atlantic Ocean. Global warming has not only increased the ocean temperature in the tropics but has also expanded the tropical ocean by 8.5 million square miles. This warming of ocean water has increased the frequency and strength of hurricanes. From 1995 to 2000 there was a 75 percent increase in the number of hurricanes from the previous decade. Katrina is an example of the devastation a strong hurricane can cause. Other factors such as El Nino can affect the number of hurricanes that occur in a given year. El Nino causes decreases in the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic but causes increases and severity of hurricanes in the Western Pacific. 

It may appear ironic to some people that global warming increases the frequency of severe winters. Warm air holds more moisture and is less dense than cold air.  Rising water temperature increases the rate of evaporation and warm air retains this moisture as water vapor. The water vapor laden warm air rises and is transported over land by wind where it cools and the water vapor condenses to form snow, ice, sleet and rain. Then comes spring, which generates rain along with the melting of snow and ice triggering devastating floods that we are currently witnessing in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and in North Dakota.

If we continue to have a carbon based energy economy the extreme weather devastation will only get worst! Wouldn’t it be logical to start investing in a clean energy economy so that we can save lives, property and curtail spending taxpayer’s money to pay for the spiraling devastation caused by extreme weather?

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