Is Global Warming Fueling Katrina?
Warm ocean temperatures are a key ingredient for monster hurricanes, prompting some scientists to believe that global warming is exacerbating our storm troubles. One thing’s for sure: hurricanes were around a long, long time before human beings began chopping down rainforests and fouling the atmosphere. To get such a tempest going, you don’t need much more than ocean temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit; a cool, wet atmosphere above and a warm, wet one near the surface; and a preexisting weather disturbance with a bit of spin to it far enough from the equator (at least 300 miles) so that the rotation of the Earth amplifies the rotation of the storm. The more intense the storm becomes, the more the temperature of its core climbs, accelerating the spin, exacerbating the storm, and leading to the meteorological violence we call a hurricane. And violent it can be: The heat released in an average hurricane can equal the electricity produced by the U.S. in a single year. One especially sobering study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that hurricane wind speeds have increased about 50% in the past 50 years. And since warm oceans are such a critical ingredient in hurricane formation, anything that gets the water warming more could get the storms growing worse. Global warming, in theory at least, would be more than sufficient to do that. While the people of New Orleans may not see another hurricane for years, the next one they do see could make even Katrina look mild.