(It appears I need to forewarn new readers that the purpose of this weeks column is to highlight the potential for great damage to the environmental message by arguing a misconception as “fact”, and then having to listen to Conservatives use that assumption against you when it doesn’t come true. To be forewarned is to be fore-armed. – Mugsy)


This may rustle a few feathers because it sounds counter-intuitive, but there is a misconception (and some quizzical surprise) that the record highs experienced across much of the country the past few Summers hasn’t produced more major hurricanes. And it is that precise failed expectation that allows Global Warming deniers to continue to live in denial: “If there were global warming, wouldn’t we be seeing more hurricanes?” Well, that depends.

When I was a kid, I loved science. And for a period of about four years (a lifetime to a child), I wanted to be a Meteorologist… not a “TV weatherman”… I wanted to study tornadoes & hurricanes. I learned quite a bit about how they work… lessons that stay with me to this day.

Make no mistake, Global Warming is real. Very real. But what I write today is likely to seem counter-intuitive: EXTREME heat results in FEWER hurricanes, not more, which I will attempt to explain below. But before any global warming deniers go out dancing in the street claiming that a hotter Earth may actually SAVE us from another Katrina or Ike, you need to read on to the end. (Please bear with me though some of the technical details, but it’s important.)

Summer is here, the toughest time of all for Global Warming denying nitwits, who argue each Winter that every snowstorm is PROOF that global warming is a hoax. But during the Summer, all they can say is, “Hey, it gets this hot EVERY year!” The fact is that day-to-day temperatures have little or nothing to do with “Global Warming”. Though repeated frequently, it is a concept completely lost on them. So month-after-month, year-after-year, these Luddites try to use short-term weather patterns to argue that Global Climate Change is “a Liberal hoax” designed to cram all that “touchy-feely nature crap” down everyone’s throats… because, as we all well know, Liberals lie awake at night trying to think up ways to trick Sean Hannity into driving a Prius and drink soymilk while playing Kumbayah on the guitar under a shadetree (pardon the disturbing imagery). And we’ll spend billions to do it. It’s a bit like arguing that the Earth’s surface is 60% water to a cactus. It may be true, but since they’ll never see it for themselves, it’s just one big lie and you’ll never convince them otherwise.

“Global Warming” means just that… the globe itself, this big round ball of dirt, is getting warmer. Perhaps by only a degree or so, but the planet is warming up. If you think an increase of one degree isn’t that big a deal, ask an icecube what the difference is between 32’F and 33’F? (Hint, water freezes at 32’F.) And if we don’t get the temperature rise under control, it will accelerate… . exponentially. And there is a “tipping point” after which there’ll be no way to stop the rise in temperature no matter what we do. But “Global Warming critics” that don’t understand (and refuse to learn) this concept, view every record snowstorm or mild hurricane season as evidence that global warming doesn’t exist. As long as we have Winter, we’re going to have cold days… fewer & fewer, but record cold spells aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, if we DIDN’T still have cold Winter weather, then we’d REALLY be in deep doo-doo.

In any case, the recurring weather phenomena known as “El Nino” is back in the news this week. “El Nino” is a warming trend just off the Pacific coast that affects our Jet Stream:

El Nino’s effects on the Jet Streams
The Jet Streams


“El Nino” strengthens the Northern and Sub-tropical jet streams, flattening them out and creating more wind-shear at higher elevations which rip storms apart and prevents the wind from circulating. Hurricanes and tornadoes are the result of rapidly rising hot air and rapidly sinking cold air twisting past each other. The more extreme the difference in temperature, the more powerful the storm. As global warming increases the temperature in the upper atmosphere, there is less of a difference between the temperature up high in the stratosphere and down low near the Earth’s surface, resulting in WEAKER storms. Hurricanes (and presumably tornadoes) don’t like EXTREME weather. They like moderate temperatures and calm winds. So you are more likely to see more hurricanes late in the season when surface temperatures are in the low 90’s than at the peak of Summer when the air is over 100′.

Now all you Global Warming deniers who think you can stop reading now and go blog everywhere that “some Liberal explained how Global Warming will result in weaker, less-destructive hurricanes”, here’s the kicker… Global Warming will EXTEND the hurricane season, starting sooner and ending later. And the storms that DO form will grow faster and be even more destructive. Officially, hurricane season is from June 1st to November 30th. But we’ve already seen storms outside those dates in recent years. And as the temperature of the planet continues to rise, that season is likely to widen by a month or more.

As Summer arrives, that warm water feeds hurricanes, making them stronger. Global Warming means (duh) warmer water and stronger storms. I forget where I first heard it, but “every 1′ degree (Celsius) rise in the oceans’ temperature adds about 1million atomic bombs worth of energy to a hurricane.” A Google search turned up the following information:

~361,000,000 square centimeters of water (all the world’s oceans combined) *
(5280ft/mi * 12 in/ft * 2.54 cm/in)^3 *
1calorie/cc/degC) /
10^15 calories per megaton of TNT =

1.5 BILLION one-megaton atomic bombs for every one deg C rise in the temperature of the worlds oceans.

Since the only bodies of water feeding our hurricanes are the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (the Pacific is less of an issue since all hurricanes travel West), the amount of energy feeding hurricanes that threaten the U.S. mainland is significantly less. So, using the same formula:

Gulf of Mexico (~1,000,000sq meters) + Tropics (~5.4million sq.meters) = ~6,400,000sq.meters x
(5280ft/mi * 12 in/ft * 2.54 cm/in)^3 *
1calorie/cc/degC) /
10^15 calories per megaton of TNT =

Roughly 27 MILLION Hiroshima atomic bombs worth of energy.

I stress that I’m still but an amateur meteorologist, and my math lacks peer review, but I think it is safe to say that the amount of energy required to heat 4million square miles of seawater one degree requires an unimaginable amount of energy… energy that hurricanes feed off.

So the next time you hear some Right-wing knuckle-dragger… like Matt Drudge… cite a lack of activity as evidence of “the nonexistence of global warming”, you’ll be armed with the truth and know that it is Global Warming that is directly responsible for that inactivity when we’d expect it most.

Postscript: As mentioned last week, I was called for Jury Duty but mercifully wasn’t selected. While waiting in the prep-room, two TV monitors scrolled through some (inadvertently) hilarious information:

Among the list of “Valid exemptions” for Jury Duty scrolling across the TV screen…
     o “Can not Read and Write” (“If you can’t read this, you can’t serve.”).
     o “Do not understand the English language.” (ditto)

I pray that the person that wrote that list isn’t also running my government. 🙂

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(UPDATE: Progressive blogger and statistician Nate Silver has issued a financial challenge of Global Warming skeptics to “put their money where their mouth is”. Not surprisingly, no one has taken him up on his challenge.)