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Is climate change causing more hurricanes?

Canadians should be prepared for damaging storms
Canadians should be prepared for damaging storms

Sana Ahmed, staff writer

July 11, 2011 — Hurricane, environmental and meteorological experts weigh in on whether or not increasing numbers of hurricanes are connected to climate change.

Increase in hurricanes over the last 130 years
Increase in hurricanes over the last 130 years

The number of hurricanes have visibly increased over the last two decades. Even Canada has experienced the change, leaving many people wondering why.

Meteorological experts attribute this change to mainly two reasons.

“There are both human and natural contributions to climate change,” explains Chris Scott, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. “As a result, this affects hurricane frequency and intensity.”

Climatologists agree that in the past 15 years, planet Earth has seen changes in its temperature.

“It looks like what we have seen in the Atlantic Ocean is what we know as an Atlantic multi- decadal oscillation, which occurs over a 20 to 40 year time period in the Atlantic Ocean, where ocean water temperatures go from a warm phase to a cooler phase,” says Chris Fogarty of the Canadian Hurricane Centre. “And over the last 15 years we have been in the warmer phase.”

For the last 130 years, there has been a marked increase in the number of hurricanes during the warmer cycles.

Last September, Hurricane Igor led to major flooding and wind damage in Newfoundland
Last September, Hurricane Igor led to major flooding and wind damage in Newfoundland

“We know this to be a natural up and down in water temperatures and correspondingly hurricanes,” Fogarty explains.

Brennan Vogel of the Ecology Action Centre says man-made climate change could also be playing a role.

“I think the evidence does suggest that there is an effect that more carbon dioxide is leading to warmer ocean temperatures and warmer air temperatures and an increase in hurricane activity,” says Vogel.

Scott believes it is unclear how much of a connection there is between an increase in hurricanes and climate change.

“We can't precisely say that an increase in hurricane activity is directly the result of this or that. It's a combination of things. Most climate scientists agree that ocean temperatures will warm over the coming decades. While this doesn't cause hurricanes directly, it could lead to stronger hurricanes impacting Atlantic Canada.”

Scott says that hurricanes will continue to occur, but as far as climate change is concerned, humans do contribute to it in a significant way.

“What we want to emphasize is we can get a big storm in any year. We've had them in the past and we will have them in the future. We have to be ready for storms surges as well as damaging wind and rain,” he explains.

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