A costly hurricane season in 2017

Brian Mackley

With this year’s hurricane season coming to a close, 2017 could become the costliest hurricane season in U.S. history. According to the National Hurricane Center, this September’s accumulated cyclone energy was 3.5 times more active than an average September between the years 1981 and 2010.

Just this year, the United States has an estimated $200 billion of damage from hurricanes alone.

Associate Dean William Gutowski has done extensive research in the field of atmospheric dynamics and climate and said the storms may have been more violent due to increasing ocean temperatures.

“Hurricanes derive their energy from the heat in the ocean,” Gutowski said.

Since this year’s ocean temperatures rank within the top five warmest on record according to the National Center for Environmental Information, it’s no wonder we have seen such an outbreak in tropical storms.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average ocean temperature has risen at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit each decade since 1901. With ocean temperatures continuing to rise, the United States, as well as the rest of the world, may start to see bigger and more powerful hurricanes.

William Gallus, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, said another reason behind this season’s dramatic spike in tropical storms could be due to the rise in ocean levels.

The Environmental Protection Agency also stated that since 1993, the average amount at which the oceans have been rising has nearly doubled from 0.06 inches a year to roughly 0.11 to 0.14 inches a year. The rise in ocean levels can contribute to a hurricane’s storm surge.

A storm’s storm surge can be described by how much water levels have risen during a storm in comparison to the normal movement of the tides. Storm surge is also widely considered the main reason for loss of life and property damage during a hurricane.

Although Gutowski and Gallus both found it unusual to have two category five hurricanes and one category four hurricane all from close to the same area, they said we can’t jump straight to conclusions.

“You can’t take one event or even one season and say this is because of climate change,” said Beth Caissie, assistant professor of geological and atmospheric sciences. 

The reason for this being that the conditions in the oceans that allow hurricanes to form fluctuate from year to year. This makes it hard to pin down whether climate change is the problem.

The world may be either in the middle or at the start of a trend leading the world toward more powerful hurricanes; it’s too soon to tell whether climate change is a major factor in helping create more violent tropical storms.

It could be years until it’s determined whether climate change has had a direct impact on the carnage of hurricanes. Over the next year as we clean up the destruction left by Harvey, Irma and Maria, we must do our best to find new ways of preventing these hurricanes from costing us so much damage.