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Wednesday February 1st

Scientists debate effects of climate change as Hurricane Ophelia hits Ireland

The projected path for Hurricane Ophelia. Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Buy Photos The projected path for Hurricane Ophelia. Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hurricane Ophelia, which hit Ireland Monday, is the 10th consecutive Atlantic storm in 2017.

Winds speeds have reached above 70 mph in several locations, with one gust reaching 119 mph on the southern Irish coast. There have been power outages, fallen trees and at least three deaths resulting from the storm. 

This is the first time there have been 10 consecutive hurricanes in the Atlantic since 1893, according to The Weather Channel. 

Chip Konrad, a geography professor at UNC, said climate change could be playing a role in the strength and frequency of hurricanes this season, but there is still research being done on the extent of its role. 

Konrad said many factors lead to the forming of a hurricane. He furthered that warming air temperatures are associated with climate change, while warming sea surface temperatures are associated with hurricanes. 

“Hurricanes get their energy from the sea surface, and with the warming of the sea surface there is more energy there to potentially make hurricanes," he said. "But, you've got to have other things going on in the atmosphere to make a hurricane."

Marlo Lewis Jr., senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., said scientists have tried to figure out how global warming will affect weather patterns over time.

“So, there is modeling that will suggest that over time — by the 2080s — there will be a discernible increase in the power of the most destructive hurricanes, but also a reduction in the overall frequency of hurricanes,” he said. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s study, which is based on climate models, suggests tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures will warm drastically during the 21st century.

“Upper tropospheric temperatures will warm even more than (sea surface temperatures),” the study states. “Furthermore, most of the models project increasing levels of vertical wind shear over parts of the western tropical Atlantic. Both the increased warming of the upper troposphere relative to the surface and the increased vertical wind shear are detrimental factors for hurricane development and intensification, while warmer (sea surface temperatures) favor development and intensification.”

Konrad said sea level temperatures are rising, but climate change's contribution is still being studied by climatologists.

“We have established that temperatures are definitely increasing,” he said.

He said sea surface temperatures will continue to rise as long as the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. 

"We know temperatures are going to continue to go up,” he said. 

Lewis said despite the harm hurricanes are causing, their economic impact has been lower than in the past. 

“So in the hottest decade — and it is really true that in the instrumental weather the last couple of decades has been the warmest — but nonetheless since 1990 as a percentage, this is a slightly different measure," he said. "But as a percentage of global GDP the impact of extreme weather on the global economy has declined to about 25 percent to a third since 1990."


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