Hurricane Florence  



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Sunday August 12, 2018 Hurricane Florence It is just a little over a year ago that Hurricane Harvey stalled along the Texas coastline lashing the area from Houston as far west as Louisiana with massive amounts of rain.  Now North and South Carolina are witnessing a similar situation after Hurricane Florence make landfall close to Wilmington, NC. 


Almost immediately after Florence made landfall one of the chief climate denier, Dr. Roy Spencer, was featured in an Op-Ed in USA today.  He actually used the term that many have used when the climate deniers try to point to a single weather event as proof that global warming doesn't exist; "It's just weather".  Following the usual pattern this article will get plastered across the right wing media over the next few days to increase its impact.  It has already shown up in the Daily Caller.


In the article he goes back to past history to try and show that this event is not that unusual.  He looked at how there was a long pause from 2006 until 2017 when mainland USA did not see any major hurricanes making landfall.  His source for this appears to be an article in the Dayton Daily News.  The article seems to have ignored Hurricane Dolly that came ashore in Texas in 2008.  It also ignored those hurricanes that weakened to a tropical storm before coming ashore in the USA.


First let me say that in some respects Dr. Spencer is correct, in all probability hurricane Florence was not caused by global warming.  In any event, such causation would no doubt be almost impossible to prove conclusively.  That doesn't mean that global warming didn't magnify the effects of the storm.


Florence was unusual in several ways. 


First it started out off the coast of Africa but it didn't follow the normal storm track for such storms which tend to move further north.  Hurricane Helena is expected to take this route moving into cooler waters to the north and eventually hitting Western Europe.  Hurricane Isaac is also out in the Atlantic and it too is tracking on a more southerly path and looks like making landfall in the Caribbean. 


Second the storm went from a tropical storm to a category 4 hurricane very quickly which is something we also saw with Harvey last year.  Unlike Harvey the storm did weaken as it approached land, something most hurricanes do, so by the time it made landfall it had dropped from a strong category 4 hurricane to a weak category 1 hurricane.


Third the sheer size of the storm was unusual.   The storm was about 370 miles wide and Astronauts on the international space station reported that they had to use an extreme wide angle lens to get a full picture of the storm from the international space station.  The eye of the storm was about 25 miles wide.
The storm was extremely slow moving.  It is currently moving west from the coast at just 6mph.  The result of this is similar to what happened with  Harvey, the area under the hurricane is being deluged by rain.  It is probably not doing to dump as much rain as Harvey did but some places have received as much as 24 inches and the rain continues to fall as the storm is still pulling water from the ocean. 


What can we say about the amount that global warming impacted hurricane Florence?


Climate scientists will be doing attribution analysis on this storm over the next few weeks and they will be determining what the probability was that global warming made this storm more severe than it would have been, but we have enough information to show what was likely impacted by a warming climate.


Florence and Isaac, the storm following it across the Atlantic. took a more southerly route than normal because there was a huge ridge of high pressure stationary over the North Atlantic.  This high pressure is a result of warmer temperatures in the Arctic which caused the polar jet stream to move north.  This caused a ridge of high pressure to stall over the North Atlantic and was also causal in the unusually hot summer experienced in Europe and North  America.


It has been known for a long time that warmer air can hold more water so as the atmosphere heats up then it holds more water which means that rain levels can increase.  For every increase of 1 degree C the atmosphere can hold about 7% more moisture.  Storms in general have been getting slower over the last 70 years and this too has been shown to be a result of global warming.  The slower storm and the ability of a warming atmosphere to hold more water means that storms like Florence and Harvey dump more rain when they make landfall.

While absolute causation of an event like Hurricane Florence to global warming is impossible it is quite clear that the odds are good that climate change did contribute to both  the strength, and damage done by this storm.  The last report I saw listed the death toll at 14 and thousands more have experience badly damaged homes and property due to the sever flooding caused by this storm. 


Because of the severity of Florence we have almost forgotten that Typhoon Mangkhut just made landfall in China after killing 64 people as it passed over the Island of Luzon in the Philippines.  Hawaii was also hit this past week as tropical storm Olivia made landfall on Maui and caused heave rain, flooding some roads.  It also caused power loss on Oahu and did some damage on the the big island.


We have to realize that we causing a real problem by dumping billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and make the move to renewable energy and electric transportation as quickly as possible.  Otherwise we we most likely see much more severe storms in the future as the climate continues to warm. 


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