(Hurricane Katrina bears down on Gulf Coast)
From 1923 to 1970, ‘Katrina’ class storm surges only occurred about once every other decade. By 2010, that number had doubled.
Now, a new study from the Niels Bohr Institute shows that temperature increase of about .4 degree C over that period drove a doubling of extreme storms. According to the paper, now half of all ‘Katrinas’ can be attributed to human caused climate change.
The study used measurements from tide gauges along the US East Coast from Texas to Maine in order to determine the frequency of major storm surge events. And they found that as temperature increased, storm surges steadily rose. Now major storm surge events on the order of Katrina are twice as frequent.
But the study didn’t stop there. It used a new form of global ocean heat modeling to predict how frequent Katrina size events would become as world temperatures increase to 2 degrees C above the 20th century average by 2050. And what they found was stunning. Major storm surge events steadily increase along with global temperature until they occur once every other year when temperature increase exceeds the 2 degree mark.
In such a world, 9 out of ten ‘Katrinas’ could be attributed to human caused warming.
Hard work needed to prevent major storms
In order to keep global temperature increases below the 2 degree Celsius mark, only 1/3 of current world fossil fuel reserves can be burned. Unfortunately, massive efforts are still underway to extract and burn fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. The Ryan Budget contains numerous proposals that would increase US coal, oil, and gas burning while increasing production of high-carbon unconventional fossil fuels like fracked oil and tar sands from Canada.
Even top democrats like President Obama appear to be ready to offer up increasing carbon emissions in the form of the Keystone XL Pipeline as a ‘compromise’ to Republicans. Such compromises would set us on a path not just to 2 degree warming, but to 3, 4, 5, or more. And with 2 degree warming, at the very least, seeing a ten-fold increase in powerful storms the likes of Katrina, shouldn’t we be seriously reticent about any ‘compromise’ that future damages US cities and coastlines?
It is doubtful if coastal towns and cities could withstand the onslaught of one Katrina every other year. Places that include the names New York, New Orleans, Houston, Ocean City, Atlantic City, Boston, Charleston, Miami, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Daytona, Wilmington, and even Washington DC would fall under the gun with increasing frequency. But this crazy new pace of powerful storms isn’t the only problem 2 degrees of warming serves up. That’s right, an ever-greater number of storms would rush to shore atop a rising world Ocean.
Rising seas would further complicate the impacts of increasingly frequent and powerful storms by providing a higher launching pad from which major storm surges would drive to shore. In such cases, one would expect to see greater impacts to coastlines and even to locations far inland — especially in flat regions like Florida, Louisiana and coastal Virginia.
In light of clear dangers coming from new science on how global warming impacts powerful storm frequency and storm surge it becomes just a little crazy to even consider bad policy choices like building more coal plants, relying more on fracked oil, or shackling America to tar sands via the Keystone XL pipeline. And the new, proven, technologies of wind, solar, and vehicle to grid look all the more appealing.
Though some future damage is already in store due to the greenhouse gasses we have already emitted, why would we even consider making the problem worse? This new study is yet one more warning. And the burning question is — will we listen?