James Elsner of Florida State University said he set out to perform a statistical analysis of the two theories in a raging debate within the scientific community: Whether recent intense hurricanes are the result of climate change or natural ocean warming and cooling cycles.
"Is the atmosphere forcing the ocean or the ocean forcing the atmosphere?" Elsner asked.
The issue has a wide-ranging impact on insurance companies, municipal planners, some 50 million residents of hurricane-prone US coastal communities and millions of others in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean islands.
The 2005 hurricane season produced 28 tropical storms and hurricanes, shattering the old record of 21 set in 1933.
Four of the hurricanes were Category 5, the strongest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. One of those, Wilma, was the most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
The season also produced Katrina, which killed more than 1,300 people and caused about US$80 billion in damage when it swamped New Orleans and other parts of the US Gulf coast.
Elsner looked at 135 years of records to examine the statistical connection between Atlantic sea surface temperatures and air temperatures near the sea surface, and then compared them to records of hurricane intensities.
Atlantic hurricanes draw their energy from the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
He found that average air temperatures during hurricane season between June and November were useful in predicting sea surface temperatures, but not the other way around.
Read the full story here: Hurricanes
Categories: climatechange, hurricanes, science
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