Hurricane Matthew is barreling towards Florida, and left-leaning bloggers and scientists have already blamed the storm’s ferocity on, you guessed it, global warming.
“Matthew has already set a number of records — and global warming is giving it a boost,” Joe Romm, ThinkProgress’ climate editor, wrote.
“Hurricane Matthew, a record-shattering storm that is unusual for October, is a reminder of climate change’s potential to turn seasonal weather events into extreme, year-round threats,” echoed Huffington Post reporter Lydia O’Connor.
Matthew is indeed a powerful storm with maximum sustained wind speeds of 125 miles per hour, and it’s expected to strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane before making landfall in Florida Friday morning. Some scientists have said it’s a stark warning for future generations.
“We expect to see more high-intensity events, Category 4 and 5 events, that are around 13% of total hurricanes but do a disproportionate amount of damage,” Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The Guardian.
“The theory is robust and there are hints that we are already beginning to see it in nature,” said Emanuel, who recently signed a letter with 374 other scientists basically endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“On our current path of unrestricted carbon pollution, NOAA researchers have determined that parts of the East Coast would see Sandy-level storm surges every year by mid-century,” warned Romm, who’s also a climate scientist. “We simply cannot cut carbon pollution fast enough.”
The basic theory is global warming is heating up the oceans, which makes it possible for more powerful hurricanes and associated rainfall to increase in strength. Some scientists predict this will make hurricanes even stronger as the world warms from human activities.
“But we’re fairly certain that, whether we see more or fewer tropical cyclones, we will see more intense hurricanes and super-typhoons, like Katrina, and Sandy and Haiyan and Patricia and now Matthew,” Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann told HuffPo’s O’Connor.
Matthew has already broken records for Caribbean hurricanes, according to the Weather Channel. It was the longest living Category 4 or 5 storm in the Atlantic and Eastern Caribbean on record, and has generated more accumulated energy than the entire Atlantic hurricane season in 2013.
That’s terrifying, but is it global warming?
Romm points to several recent papers pointing to global warming creating stronger storms, including a 2013 paper claiming “since 1975 there has been a substantial and observable regional and global increase in the proportion of Category 4–5 hurricanes of 25–30 percent per °C of anthropogenic global warming.”
But that’s not what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that same year. The IPCC is usually cited as an indicator of where the “consensus” is on climate science.
So what does the IPCC say about hurricanes?
“Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century,” the IPCC found in 2013. “No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin”
“In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low,” the IPCC found.
It’s also worth noting Matthew is expected to break a more than 4,000-day streak of no major hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was the last major storm to make landfall on the U.S. coast.
It has now been exactly 4000 days since the last major #hurricane made U.S. landfall (Wilma-2005). #Matthew pic.twitter.com/Spb8bGgsgl
— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) October 6, 2016
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