A leading U.S. government storm researcher said Monday that the record hurricane season last year can be attributed to global warming.
MONTEREY, Calif. A leading U.S. government storm researcher said Monday that the record hurricane season last year can be attributed to global warming.
"The hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change and it's no longer something we'll see in the future, it's happening now," said Greg Holland, a division director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
Holland told a packed hall at the American Meteorological Society's 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology in Monterey, California that the wind and warmer water conditions that fuel storms that form in the Caribbean are "increasingly due to greenhouse gases. There seems to be no other conclusion you can logically draw."
His conclusion will be debated throughout the week-long conference, as other researchers present opposing papers that say changing wind and temperature conditions in the tropics are due to natural events, not the accumulation of carbon dioxide emissions clouding the Earth.
Many of the experts gathered in the coastal city of Monterey are federal employees working under a Bush administration that contends global warming is an unproven theory.
Holland, director of the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division of the federal research center, said tropical storm anomalies in the 1940s and 1950s can be explained by natural variability.
But he said carbon dioxide started changing traceable patterns in the 1970s and by the early 1990s, the atmospheric results were affecting the storm numbers and intensities.
"What we're seeing right now in global climate temperature is a signature of climate change," said Holland, a native of Australia. "The large bulk of the scientific community say what we are seeing now is linked directly to greenhouse gases."
Most major hurricanes develop from African easterly waves and they have been increasing for a decade, Holland said. When they reach the warm water in the tropics, cyclones can form. If the water is warmer than usual, the cyclones can be more intense than usual and are more likely to reach the United States, he said.
Hurricane Katrina, which tore onto the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts on Aug. 29, was the deadliest hurricane in 77 years and the costliest ever, with property damages estimated at $75 billion.
This year, the weather service's Tropical Prediction Center expects more hurricanes than usual, but not as many as last year's record.
"It doesn't look as active as 2005, but I'm not sure we'll ever see another year like 2005," said said Eric Blake, one of the center's hurricane specialists, adding that 2006 may be more like the hurricane season of 2004.