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How Climate Change And Budget Cuts Could Make This The Most Dangerous Hurricane Season Ever

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"How Climate Change And Budget Cuts Could Make This The Most Dangerous Hurricane Season Ever"

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The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on Saturday and despite warnings of an above-average season and increasingly intense storms driven by climate change, key agencies are facing mandatory cuts that threaten their ability to prepare and protect at-risk communities.

In releasing its annual hurricane season outlook last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an “active or extremely active” season, with 13 to 20 named storms — 7 to 11 of which could become hurricanes, including 3 to 6 major hurricanes.

These ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

In addition, climate change is fueling more intense and destructive storms. As Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains, “Climate change is causing a greater number of intense storms. The total number of storms has remained constant, but the proportion of high-intensity events has gone steadily upward in most parts of the world. Scientific models and real-world observations both suggest that the frequency of intense storms is going up.”

As climate change warms the oceans, water evaporates faster — driving stronger winds, more rain, and more powerful hurricanes. And as sea levels rise, the storm surges from hurricanes will be more destructive, posing a serious threat to coastal communities.

These impacts were brought to bear last fall when Superstorm Sandy struck New York and New Jersey. Unusually warm water temperatures fueled the late-season storm and sea-level rise enabled the most devastating aspect of the storm — unprecedented storm surges. Sandy’s tremendous size and catastrophic surges left 147 people dead and caused an estimated $72 billion in damages.

As coastal communities are increasingly vulnerable to more severe storms, across-the-board cuts mandated by the sequester could undermine the ability of federal agencies to keep communities informed and prepared for severe weather.

The National Weather Service, already cash-strapped and under scrutiny for sub-par computer modeling, will be grappling with a hiring freeze and mandatory furloughs as it heads into a potentially daunting hurricane season. The NWS office in Tallahassee, which typically has 18 meteorologists on staff, is down to 14 due to the cuts.

Though officials say they can maintain adequate staffing to provide critical services, such as forecasting at the National Hurricane Center in Miami and sending aircraft known as Hurricane Hunters into storms to measure speed and pressure, the staff and crews will be forced to take turns being furloughed.

In addition, nearly 1,000 Florida national guardsmen and civilian technicians will be furloughed beginning in June and lasting to September, which Governor Rick Scott says will impact their readiness and ability to respond to a major storm.

With resources and personnel already stretched thin, the prospect of multiple major storms becomes even more daunting. “The biggest concern would be if we have a very active hurricane season and we have back-to-back storms or we have multiple storms hitting the state, they would simply not have the manpower necessary to ensure they have the appropriate coverage in all their field offices to provide us with the most accurate and timely forecast,” said Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

As Sandy demonstrated, the ‘new normal’ of climate change-driven storms mandates a new level of preparedness. Instead, agencies responsible for predicting storms and protecting communities in harm’s way are being forced to grapple with significant cuts on the eve of what’s predicted to be a serious hurricane season.

Update

Citing recent severe weather, including more devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma and Missouri, NOAA’s acting administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, announced in an email to staff late last night that the agency, which includes the National Weather Service, was cancelling its intent to furlough all employees.

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24 Responses to How Climate Change And Budget Cuts Could Make This The Most Dangerous Hurricane Season Ever

  1. fj says:

    This may be true eye-opener to many people in this country who are at risk.

    • wjca says:

      Will it be an eye-opener? I’m not so sure. Consider the states which are most at risk for hurricanes (and the states most at risk for tornados). What do they have in common? They all elected to Congress people who are rabid to cut budgets for any and all parts of the Federal government — including the National Weather Service.

      It’s the same mentality which had a Senator from Oklahoma objecting to FEMA coming in after the OKC tornado. Will the voters there figure out that their elected representatives are putting them at risk? Even after they get trashed by the next set of hurricanes? You’d think so . . . but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. Somehow ideology seems to be trumping self-interest, as well as good sense.

  2. M Tucker says:

    Climate Central has an interesting post today: “Not only are forecasters calling for an unusually active season, they also say that there are signs that the U.S., which hasn’t had a major hurricane in a record seven years [Sandi was technically not a hurricane, Irene in 2011 was a Cat 1], may be particularly vulnerable this year due to a combination of weather and climate factors.”

    “According to James Elsner, a hurricane specialist at Florida State University, there are two key factors pointing to an above-average likelihood that the U.S. will be hit by a hurricane — possibly a major one — this season. His research has found that the lack of an El Niño event increases the likelihood of a hurricane strike, as does a climate pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO.

    The North Atlantic Oscillation is an atmospheric pressure pattern over the North Atlantic that can vary from one week to the next. Elsner said that if the NAO is in its so-called “negative phase” during the spring, it can often be a harbinger of greater hurricane risk in the U.S. during the following hurricane season.”

    “According to James Elsner, a hurricane specialist at Florida State University, there are two key factors pointing to an above-average likelihood that the U.S. will be hit by a hurricane — possibly a major one — this season. His research has found that the lack of an El Niño event increases the likelihood of a hurricane strike, as does a climate pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO.

    The North Atlantic Oscillation is an atmospheric pressure pattern over the North Atlantic that can vary from one week to the next. Elsner said that if the NAO is in its so-called “negative phase” during the spring, it can often be a harbinger of greater hurricane risk in the U.S. during the following hurricane season.”

    “The negative [springtime] NAO is an indicator that the U.S. will have a heightened threat this year,” Elsner said.”

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think that forecasting these days is pretty pointless (particularly of the future!). The use of historical records to predict future conditions in a world where the climate is rapidly destabilising seems to be in danger of being misleading. We can only expect the unexpected, climatic conditions and weather events without precedent.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Yes but short term warnings give people time to prepare. Flat across the board cuts going into summer are as smart as a flat tax, ME

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        It’s like ‘universal precautions’ in hospital. You don’t know if someone is infected, perhaps they don’t know themselves, but every human is a potential vector, so you put on your gloves and such when in contact with ‘bodily fluids’. If you live in a hurricane or cyclone zone, you must always be prepared, or trust in God. That, alas, don’t always work.

  4. WrenchMonkey says:

    I think intensifying disasters by reducing funding for emergency preparedness, first responders and related services is a purposed goal of the ruling class.

    They know exactly what such cuts will do, which is precisely why they are being imposed.

    It’s easy to imagine a future in which growing numbers of cities have their frail and long-neglected infrastructures knocked out by disasters and then are left to rot, their core services never repaired or rehabilitated. The well-off, meanwhile, will withdraw into gated communities, their needs met by privatized providers.”
    Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine”

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Sure enough! Disaster capitalism is all the rage, coming to a community, or nation, near you. Barbara Ehrenreich, excellent journalist, has written a bit lately about how the capitalist ghouls are targeting the poorest as disempowered targets for a deal of ‘wealth extraction’- one meagre filching at a time, but they all add up. Micro-credit was ‘marketised’ under IMF and World Bank tutelage and turned into a sort of ‘pay-day lender’ scam to screw those beloved little ‘entrepreneurs’ that the market vampires pretend to love so much.

  5. katy says:

    just noticed this story at the googlenews page:
    Study sees climate upside in greening arid regions
    USA TODAY
    Rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a “fertilization effect” on plants in arid regions that has contributed to the flourishing of foliage there, Australian researchers report.
    [...]
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/31/study-climate-change/2377179/

    • Paul Klinkman says:

      Wait a minute! I see in the USA Toady story that they adjusted their data for precipitation.

      Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The story is written by Wendy Koch!!?? The fertilisation effect, if true, will be the result of higher CO2 and greater precipitation thanks to increased atmospheric water vapour, I would surmise. I doubt that the effects will be long-lived, in the face of longer and hotter droughts and greater deluges and floods. Western Queensland went quite green after a couple of years of record rains, but now is in deep drought again, with cattle starving. Still, it gives the denialati another canard to peddle, so the Rightwing MSM is, as ever, flat out like a lizard drinking, serving its masters’ money interests.

  6. Paul Klinkman says:

    Every degree (Fahrenheit) adds 7% more water vapor power to the atmosphere. This doesn’t mean 7% stronger hurricanes, it means that Mother Nature’s foot is 7% farther down on the accelerator pedal. Hurricanes have to fight through a lot of wind shear tearing them apart, so the extra power really makes a difference when they’re winding up for a week or so.

  7. prokaryotes says:

    From WU, just now

    Yes, a possible EF-5 monster near El Reno earlier, and since then, just a whole slew of constantly-forming and re-forming and lifting and shifting tornadoes and funnels all over OKC metro—several circulations at any given time. Very high winds as well. http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=2421

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      And Moore got hit again? Those poor people must really be wondering if paranoia is now appropriate, ME

      • Paul Klinkman says:

        A certain town in the Berkshires, Stockbridge, tends to get the bulk of the tornadoes in western Massachusetts. I suspect that the contour of the Berkshires influences tornado formation.

        It could also be that Moore, influenced by downtown Oklahoma City’s skyscrapers, picks up more than its share of monsters. Moore set the world’s wind gust record at 313 mph with a twister in, I believe, 1999.

        Either Moore or the whole state of Oklahoma might be labeled as a minor death trap and redlined for home mortgages, certainly not as dangerous as living next to Mt. St. Helens or living in San Francisco.

  8. In a perverse way, severe weather events may be the spur to action to prevent a permanently distorted climate inhospitable to agriculture and human life. I find myself, with sadness, rooting for very bad storms to uppercut the underbelly of climate change denial: the Gulf of Mexico.

    Katrina and Rita apparently weren’t enough.

    There are millions of innocent people there, and I wish them nothing but good fortune, prosperity, and long, untroubled lives. These storms could be terrible, but they will be much less worse and much less widespread than the everyday climate under unchecked GHG emissions. It is a sad fact that humans will not act unless they see a palpable threat.

    My advice to the good people of the Gulf Coast: move.

    • Superman1 says:

      “It is a sad fact that humans will not act unless they see a palpable threat.” Think about the consequences of the study Hansen published last year, on the relationship of climate change to the increasing frequency and magnitude of ‘extreme’ events. How often does what used to be a ‘hundred year storm’ have to occur before it results in a change in behavior. Every fifty year? Ten years? Every year? Twice a year? So far, I’m seeing little, if any, increase in action due to the changes that have already occurred.

      • Ecovlke says:

        The hundred year flood events intuitively confuses. It is a flood event that has a 1% probability of occurring in any given year, not a flood of some magnitude that will happen every 100 years.

        Though I don’t have all of the events it certainly seems we’re having a higher frequency of 1% floods and 0.2% floods (500 year floods) happening.

  9. Jan Freed says:

    “Warmer Atlantic waters” is one of the factors mentioned in the NOAA report (along with the absence of El Nino, etc.) : e.g. climate change is at work here too.

    So, the GOP will dither and distract until millions more are sacrificed on the altar of profit?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Billions, just so long as it ain’t them. Swapping billions of people who they hate and fear for trillions in lovely moolah would suit ‘em just fine.

  10. Jack Solenson says:

    Somehow I think that there are people out there that will deny climate change even if 30 tornadoes happen tomorrow and the temperature goes to 120 degrees or -120. They’ll just deny it… say it’s a fluke or it’s an illusion. I think we need to engage the business community a lot more. If we can get them to pay attention to this then maybe things will slowly change. We should not license all the polluters.

  11. Bob h says:

    Christie is being buoyed politically by his handling of Sandy and the boardwalk openings. He denies Sandy had any connection to global warming. What is he going to say in a few years when he is standing once again in the rubble of those boardwalks?

    (One picky point on the science: when water is evaporated, it becomes latent energy to drive winds when it condenses. HIgher sea temperatures and higher evaporation into the atmosphere are increasing the latent energy available for storms)