Irene Sounded Strong Climate Change Warning

WASHINGTON DC (IDN) - Goodbye, Irene. Other tempests, too, will straddle parts of the U.S. during the 2011 hurricane season which, as usual, began in June and will run through the end of November. But Irene, though gone, is not forgotten.

Many cannot forget how Irene took away precious lives, destroyed homes, plans and livelihoods. Others remember it for their fearful moments of anticipation when they followed its every move and wondered whether it would affect and alter their lives. Some remember it for the dislocation of their holiday plans by the enforced evacuation of potential hurricane victims from perceived danger zones.

On top of the grim memories, perplexing questions arise, despite the "let's all look the other way" approach of science-deniers, as to whether and how climate change affects weather patterns including the intensity of hurricanes. (Their intensity determines their destructiveness.)

Greater Risks
A great deal of scientific research has been conducted and continues to be undertaken on the impact of climate change, and on the economic consequences that might follow. As research continues, more knowledge is forthcoming, enabling private citizens and policy makers to reach informed decisions.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently compiled a summary of key items that included the following:

-- Sea levels are rising and allowing storms to reach further inland and damage property. As sea levels rise due to climate change, storms – including hurricanes – have a higher “jumping off point” when they hit land and are able to penetrate further inland before they dissipate, posing greater risks to roads and buildings.

-- Sea levels are expected to rise as the ocean warms and expands and as land-based glaciers and ice sheets rapidly shrink. One recent study estimates that total sea-level rise by the end of the century could be between 2.5 feet and 6.6 feet, though scientists consider the worst-case scenario less likely.

-- Warmer air increases the chance for more intense precipitation that can drive flooding. Since 1958, the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen nearly 20 percent on average in the U.S.

On the specific question of how climate change affects hurricanes, the UCS responded: "The short answer is that global warming makes the ocean warmer and increases sea surface temperatures, which can make hurricanes stronger. But several factors, including differences in wind speed and direction, can break up hurricanes. Many future projections show a decrease in the frequency of all hurricanes globally, but a higher chance of intense hurricanes forming when they do occur. The changing nature of hurricanes in a warmer world remains an active area of research."

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