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Does Global Warming Stir Up More Violent Storms?

In the wake of Gustav, three more tropical storms are lining up to pummel U.S. coasts. The increased frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms this season has stirred up the debate about whether global warming causes violent weather. Many scientists and climatologists believe that global warming is not only creating more storms, but more destructive storms.

“It contributes to bigger storms  and more intense storms,” said Kevin Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Global warming causes an increase in ocean surface temperatures, increasing evaporation which releases additional heat energy into the atmosphere increasing the strength and duration of tropical storms, Trenberth explained, noting it was unusual to see four storms in the Atlantic simultaneously.

“It’s rare, perhaps, but it’s not unprecedented,” countered climatologist Jay Hobgood of Ohio State University. Hobgood and others believe the Earth is in the middle of a normal 40-year weather cycle that periodically produces more hurricanes. “The hurricane season peaks in the first two weeks of September. This is when you would expect it to be most active.”

NOAA statistics show a marked increase in the annual number of tropical storms and hurricanes in the last 20 years. Veteran hurricane expert, Hugh Willoughby of Florida International University said, “What we’re getting now, I think, is a double whammy of a slow global warming trend and a natural cycle for hurricanes.” The retired National Hurricane Center specialist said within a year or two scientists should be able to separate the effects of global warming from natural storm patterns and determine the true effect of human-produced carbon dioxide on weather.