Disasters could reflect a global warming trend

by Sophie Yang, ’19

In August and September, three major hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — struck the Atlantic, devastating Texas, Florida and the Caribbean. Overall, the 2017 hurricane season has been above average, with six hurricanes making landfall in a span of 45 days.

Scientists have long warned that climate change could bring stronger storms, which the recent hurricanes may reflect. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the waters that fueled Hurricane Harvey were 2.7 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average. The warmer environment increased moisture, caused more rainfall and allowed the hurricane to intensify before it reached Texas.

Hurricane Harvey submerges cars on a Houston highway. Over a course of 45 days, three hurricanes including Harvey made landfall. Photo courtesy Reuters.


Although the Gulf of Mexico was warmer than usual leading up to Hurricane Harvey, it’s unclear how much climate change added to the storm.

Scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told e Atlantic that the impact was significant.

“The human contribution [could] be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm,” Trenberth said.

UAHS environmental science teacher Beth Bailey agrees there is a possibility for climate change to have a affected the storms.

“With the way we’re using our resources, especially in that part of the world with industry and warmer waters that fuel the hurricanes… it would definitely be something to look into,” Bailey said.

Bailey, who has taught environmental science for about 15 years, finds that students have recently been more interested in climate change. And, as students respond to the hurricanes, Bailey hopes that this will bring a broader view of natural disasters.

“There was a big monsoon season near India. There was a lot of damage… but I feel like it didn’t really make an impact in our news,” Bailey said. “I think we need more of a global perspective with our day-to-day news intake.”