Climate Change makes Hurricanes Stronger: Showcasing the Best in Journalism (Part 5)

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We continue our series on excellent journalism by featuring an article by the Tampa Bay Times newspaper. The Tampa Bay Times is the winner of 12 Pulitzer Prizes. This news outlet is also an independent, international organization that is published in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The Tampa Bay Times is the news agency that funds the fact-checking site Politifact.

Here is how one of their articles starts:

Scientists: Climate change made Hurricane Matthew stronger

By Craig Pittman

You can’t blame climate change for creating Hurricane Matthew. But two Florida scientists say you can blame a warmer world for making the storm get so strong so fast.

Hurricanes and tropical storms gain their power from absorbing the heat of warm water. That’s why hurricane season runs from June to November, when the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico are at their warmest.

This year, global temperature readings are setting new records every month, so that 2016 is on track to be the warmest year ever.

“Ocean temperatures are playing a big role in that,” said David Zierden, Florida’s state climatologist.

This summer, the waters around the Bahamas and off Florida’s southeastern coast has been running at least 1 degree Celsius warmer than normal, he said.

“The warmer ocean temperatures surely helped fuel Matthew,” Zierden said.

James Elsner, the chairman of Florida State University’s geography department, has done an extensive study of how climate change affects hurricanes. There’s no evidence that climate change is affecting the number of tropical storms and hurricanes that develop, he said, but there is evidence to show that it makes those storms stronger.

He explained the general rule: “The warmer the ocean, the greater the intensity.”

October storms aren’t generally all that powerful, but Matthew rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane. That, he said, shows the effects of an ocean that’s been heated up.

In his 2007 book Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming, author Chris Mooney wrote that trying to link hurricanes to climate change had sparked “the biggest meteorological argument of the decade.” The lack of adequate records for hurricanes prior to the development of satellite tracking made it difficult to find enough data to make a persuasive case, he found.

But further studies, including the one led by Elsner, have shown greater likelihood for the connection.

Climate change is producing another change in hurricanes, too. Rising sea levels — produced by a combination of melting Arctic ice and the higher temperatures making the water expand — is resulting in bigger storm surges. In Florida, the sea has risen an average of 8 inches over the past century, Zierden said.

The Tampa Bay Times has done the world a great favor in creating and maintaining Politifact. This is certainly a news outlet that seeks to combat fake news.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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