The New Today

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Relationship between hurricanes and global warming

Hurricanes have become more destructive over the last 50 years, and global warming could increase the intensity in the future, an expert in climatology Professor Kerry Emmanual of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warned.

He found that both the duration of the tropical cyclones and the wind speeds they produce have risen by 50% along with increases in the average surface temperatures of tropical oceans.

“My results suggests that future warming may lead to an upward trend in tropical cyclone destructive potential, and taking into account an increasing costal population, a substantial increase in hurricane related loss is predicted in the 21st Century.”

In a research letter published in the science journal Nature, he analysed records of tropical cyclones-hurricanes and typhoons since the middle of the 20th Century. His findings show that the rising sea surface temperature, thought to be at least in part due to global warming, is responsible for the increased greenhouse gas-induced global warming.

It has at least a half degree Celsius over the last 50 years. In 2004, the hurricane season was one of the most devastating ever recorded. It cost billions of dollars in the Caribbean (especially Grenada) and in the United States and included fifteen (15) tropical storms, nine of which grew into hurricanes.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record. Twenty-eight storms – 27 tropical and one subtropical – formed during the year breaking the record of 21 set in 1933. Fifteen of the storms became hurricanes, breaking the record of 12 set in 1969. Seven hurricanes became major hurricanes corresponding to category 3 or higher on the hurricane scale. This was just short of the record of eight set in 1950.

Four hurricanes reached category 5 strength which was the first time this had been observed in one season. There were also two tropical and one subtropical depression that did not reach storm strength.

There is a connection between hurricane intensity at sea and the destructiveness on land. As the storms travel across warm oceans, they pull in more water vapor and heat. That means stronger wind, heavier rainfall and more flooding when the storms hit land.

It is well known that hurricanes form over relatively warm sea surfaces, which has led to notions that global warming will greatly increase hurricane activity.

Global warming has increased the likelihood of extreme temperatures so significantly that heat waves as powerful as the ones setting records in places like Phoenix, Catalonia and in China’s Xinjiang region last July could be expected once every 15 years in the U.S., once every 10 in southern Europe and once every five in China.

A New York Times analysis found that 23 rich industrialised countries are responsible for 50 percent of all historical emissions and more than 150 countries are responsible for the rest.

According to former NASA scientist James Hansen, industrialisation in Europe, North America, Australia, and Japan was responsible for 77 percent of global emissions between 1751-2006.

Though China is responsible for the largest percentage of current emissions, rich industrialised countries are still responsible for more than one third. By comparison, Africa’s current emissions are less than 4 percent of the global total.

“Wealthy countries are disproportionately responsible for the climate crisis, and they have the double responsibility to both cut emissions at home and to support developing countries with the costs of replanting crops and rebuilding homes after storms, and moving from dirty energy forms to cleaner, lower-carbon ones.

The super-rich—the top 1 percent of the global population by income – bear their own responsibility for climate change. Beyond the carbon footprint of their rich and famous lifestyles, so-called “carbon billionaires” are making significant financial investments into wealthy corporate polluters, according to Oxfam research.

These 125 billionaires are responsible for emitting an average of 3 million carbon tons each year. From 1990-2015, the carbon emissions of the super-rich globally were more than double the emissions of the poorest half of humanity. Over that same time, the poorest 50 percent – around 3.1 billion people – were responsible for just 7 percent of emissions.

Emissions of the super-rich will cause 1.3 million heat-related deaths between 2020 and 2030-roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Dallas.

“The major and growing responsibility of wealthy people for overall emissions is rarely discussed or considered in climate policy making,” Dabi said. “This must change. These billionaire investors at the top of the corporate pyramid have huge responsibility for driving climate breakdown. They have escaped accountability for too long.”

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For this year 2024, forecasters predicted a “record-setting pace” up to 25 named tropical storms (maximum sustained winds of 39 mph or more), including eight to 12 hurricanes (at least 74 mph) and four to seven major hurricanes (at least 111 mph).

The first of these hurricanes, Hurricane Beryl has ripped off doors, windows and roofs in homes across the south-east Caribbean after making landfall on the island of Carriacou as the earliest storm of Category 4 strength to form in the Atlantic, fueled by record warm waters.

Beryl strengthened from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in just 42 hours – a phenomenon recorded only six times before in Atlantic hurricane history. Torrential rain and gale-force winds downed power lines, smashed vehicles and forced thousands into shelters.

There were reports of two deaths, one on the Grenadines island of Bequia and one in River Road, St. George, Grenada when a tree fell on a house killing a man. Ninety per cent of buildings on Union Island were either severely damaged or destroyed.

Streets from St. Lucia south to Grenada were strewn with shoes, trees, downed power lines and scores of other debris scattered by winds up to 150 mph (240 kph), just shy of a Category 5 storm.

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the storm snapped banana trees in half and killed cows that lay in green pastures as if they were sleeping, with homes made of tin and plywood tilting precariously nearby.

On Monday afternoon, officials received “reports of devastation” from Carriacou and surrounding islands, said Terence Walters, Grenada’s national disaster coordinator.

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said he would travel to Carriacou as soon as it’s safe, noting there’s been an “extensive” storm surge. Grenada officials had to evacuate patients to a lower floor after a hospital roof was damaged, he said.

The roof of the 204-year-old St George’s Anglican Cathedral in St Vincent’s capital, Kingstown was ripped off. Beryl has also grounded flights and forced the postponement of major events in the region, including the celebrations around the St Vincent Carnival and the 20-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders’ summit, which was scheduled for this week in Grenada.

It also was the earliest Category 4 Atlantic hurricane on record, besting Hurricane Dennis, which became a Category 4 storm on July 8, 2005.

Beryl amassed its strength from record warm waters that are hotter now than they would be at the peak of hurricane season in September, said hurricane specialist and storm surge expert Michael Lowry.

Beryl also marked the farthest east that a hurricane has formed in the tropical Atlantic in June, breaking a record set in 1933, according to Philip Klotzbach, Colorado State University hurricane researcher. Warning that there is worse to come, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration described Beryl as “life-threatening.”

Jamaica remained under a hurricane warning on Monday evening, while tropical storm warnings remained in effect for the south coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Earlier storm warnings for Barbados, Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Martinique have been lifted but we should not let our guards down. Many more dangerous storms are expected this year.

Now that Hurricane Beryl has passed, Grenada have been spared the wrath of the storm. Just as we did in the past with Hurricane Ivan, we will rebuild better and stronger. May God shower blessings upon our island, for no matter how severe the aftermath, it could have been worse.

In conclusion, these wealthy polluters are responsible for climate change – and it’s time to hold them accountable on the world stage.

Big oil corporations must stop exploiting communities that possess natural resources in the Global South as the transition to clean energy continues, rich industrialised countries must pay for the loss and damage already being experienced by communities on the frontlines of the crisis, and carbon billionaires must shift their investments to funds with stronger environmental and social standards.

Simeon Collins is a former Director of the Grenada Bureau of Standards and first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA), a CARICOM Institution. He is also a certified OSHA Auditor. He was also the Chairman of the Emergency Housing Committee (EHC) named by Cabinet after Hurricane Ivan destroyed Grenada to rebuild the houses stock in this country