Hurricane Dean’s Global Warning (note spelling, n not m)?

Hurricane Dean is now officially among the top ten strongest Atlantic storms ever measured. Even more telling, six of the top ten have occurred during the past ten years.

True, our measurement techniques have improved, but even taking that into account, the fact is remarkable.

This may be a statistical fluke. It’s too soon to say, but it bears watching. At the very least, we need to plan for the possibility that the more severe global warming scenarios are coming to pass.

To quote a blog posting by science journalist Chris Mooney:

…even though Dean was not “caused” by global warming, when considered in its Atlantic context the storm is certainly consistent with the argument that there’s something going on out there that’s new–and more than a little scary.

Mooney is exceptionally well informed on this issue, and he has been cautious in his language about possible linkages between global warming and hurricanes. It only makes sense that rising ocean surface temperatures will change hurricanes in some way, but that is only one factor in a complex climate system. It’s difficult to predict what changes will occur in hurricane strength, frequency, and distribution.

He discusses this in some detail in his new book, Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming.

So if we want to get a handle on what changes are occurring, we need to both watch the data and refine our storm models. The data–admittedly very limited–is not very reassuring so far.

I know I’ll be accused of being alarmist by some readers, but I am not advocating panic mode or extreme responses. I am calling for judicious urgency. People and governments may need to respond more vigorously to global warming than they have been. If so, we need to be prepared.

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