Over the weekend, as Hurricane Gustav arrowed straight toward the Mississippi Delta and anxieties rose as far north as St. Paul Minnesota, the AP‘s Seth Borenstein filed two well-informed backgrounders. He covered hurricanes for years before joining the AP, and has done some book writing on the topic. Now that the storm turns out to be a big rainmaker but no history maker (Hannah’s still on the way of course), the stories have less punch. But are worth recognizing as good explanatory science writing on the fly.
First, filed Friday, was his explainer why the hurricane was likely to blow up to a more ferocious thing after it crossed Cuba and met the Gulf Loop Current. That’s the sort of meteorological detail few reporters would think to explore. The storm hit it and did add muscle – all the way to category 4 for awhile.
Second, filed Sunday, was less enterprising and thus harder to write, but necessary to answer the question that always pops up in these situations: is this storm due to global warming. His answer is, natch, no – however, it does fit the specs of what might happen more often in a warming world.
The Tracker has already shared with Seth something to add to the question’s answer, and which probably takes too long in print to explain and in the end would only end up boring the public. But it’s sort of pertinent. Which is: surely it’s true that darned near every weather event in the world these days is due to global warming. Every zephyr, every tornado, every blissfully sunny day (except maybe in Chile’s Atacama where every summer day is pretty much like another), and every hurricane. None of those exact things would have happened, by place and time, in this non-linear atmosphere-ocean-emission coupled circus without the exact weather history that preceded it. That’s why each year, even in a constant climate, is not a replay of the previous. Same stats, maybe, but different sequence of data. It’s not as though things go along like they would have were there to have been no warming for the last century, punctuated by a few specific spawn of the greenhouse effect. ….. see, it’s boring. But no way no how would this Gustav have come along had the climate machine gone its way without changed atmospheric chemistry for years now. Maybe, who knows, we’d have had something worse.