by Anna Haas ‘23
The 2022 hurricane season is going to be an active one with 19 storms already predicted by hurricane experts at Colorado State University (CSU). Of those expected storms, nine are expected to become hurricanes and four are expected to be category three or higher. By comparison, an average season normally consists of 14 named storms, seven hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. Hurricane season has gradually gotten worse over the years with storms breaking the average almost every year. This is largely due to the presence and absence of La Niña and El Niño, respectively, and climate change.
El Niño and La Niña are natural occurrences in the global climate system that are the result of varying ocean temperatures. Along with changes in the atmosphere affecting ocean temperatures, the system oscillates between warm, El Niño, and cold or neutral, La Niña, conditions. La Niñas are more conducive to the formation of hurricanes than El Niños as El Niño conditions tend to lead to strong winds that tear hurricanes apart as they form. Over the past 30 years, La Niñas have become more frequent while El Niños have decreased, leading to an increase in hurricane activity in the Atlantic, according to Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science. The same report said that this change in La Niña and El Niño patterns is largely due to climate change.
Climate change also plays a part in increased hurricane activity and intensity. The warmer climate that the world is experiencing leads to stronger and more intense hurricanes as warmer climate means warmer ocean temperatures, a key factor in determining the intensity of a hurricane. Warmer climates have also caused rising sea levels which in turn leads to higher storm surges. Kerry Emmanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, commented that Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge would likely not have had the devastating impact it did on New York City if it had hit in 1912 instead of 2012 because of the higher sea level in 2012.
This extreme change in hurricane patterns is not new. According to CSU data, since 2000, there have been only two years where the number of named storms has been less than 10, compared to 17 years where the number of storms was less than 10 from 1900-1922. This drastic increase in hurricanes has a profound impact on taxpayer and government spending. According to the Weather Channel, hurricane damage could cost the U.S. $54 billion in economic damage and cause the net cost to taxpayers to be $17 billion per year.
Regardless of beliefs on what is causing it, hurricanes are becoming more frequent and society will have to learn how to deal with the repercussions of that fact. Those living on the East Coast are going to be particularly affected by the increase in hurricanes and their intensity.