Both climate models and the laws of physics are clear: more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere means warmer air and oceans, which means more energy for bigger, stronger hurricanes. So why is it that we haven’t seen a clear signal from climate change in the hurricane record over the last century? This episode explores groundbreaking research on this question and looks ahead at what we can expect in the coming decades.The research Maiya May presented made the connections among rising carbon dioxide levels, climate change, air pollution, and natural disasters. It also included the historical effects of a natural cycle I've known about for 26 years, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which I've found many people ignoring in forecasting trends in hurricanes, particularly Atlantic hurricanes that put the U.S. mainland at risk. On the one hand, decreased aerosols and other particulate matter reduced lightning strikes and deaths from air pollution. On the other, it allows more sunlight to reach the planet's surface, increasing the temperature of the atmosphere and strengthening hurricanes. Welcome to three of Commoner's Laws in action: Everything is connected to everything else, there is no away; everything must go somewhere, and there is no free lunch. In the absence of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing particulates and aerosols comes with a cost of increased warming. Sigh.
May mentioned an earlier PBS Terra video about hurricanes, which asked What Can We Learn From 2020's Record-Breaking Hurricane Season?
Hurricanes are the most powerful and destructive storms on the planet. And 2020 surpassed all expectations, becoming the most active hurricane season on record. Have you ever wondered how they form? Or how climate change is affecting them? And, what can we learn from a lab that creates hurricane-force wind and rain to test the strength of houses?I hope we do learn from 2020's record-breaking hurricane season. In the meantime, consider this a sequel to Hurricanes, fires, floods, and drought, the top climate and weather stories of 2020 and hope that 2022 doesn't set any new records.