Irma is now the ninth named storm this busy hurricane season. As climatologists, we look at long-term (years to decades) averages of hurricanes (size, intensity, frequency), for example, to establish the impact of climate change, not single storms.
Journalist Chris Mooney put on his wannabe meteorologist hat and suggested that climate change could lead to hurricanes occurring outside their normal seasons of summer and fall. "It's not the approximate cause of the storm, but it makes these bad storms worse".
"You really can't pin global warming on something this extreme". He argued that the surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico was lower then, and because Amelia delivered almost as much rain as Harvey, that warmer waters and climate change could not have played a role. The storm gained significant hype in the news, but did not follow its modeled path, which had predicted a direct hit on Miami, and thus did much less damage than feared.
NOAA and Unisys have published records of storm activity in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans since records have been kept on this phenomenon.
Hurricane Irma approaches Florida on September 10. Irma maintained winds of 185 mph or above for a total of 37 hours, the most ever for a storm. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt - a denier who is gutting the agency - responded by saying it is "insensitive" to discuss climate change during such storms.
Other administration officials also refused to address the matter.
350.org and millions of Twitter users argued on Wednesday that by not contextualizing the role of global warming throughout their coverage of storms like Irma and Harvey, media outlets are as much to blame for inaction on climate change as the politicians who deny its existence.
It is always hard to attribute one storm's impact to climate change. The storm-intensification impact of climate change might very well have landed on America's doorstep in recent days in the wreckage of Florida and flooded homes of Texas.
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In August 2016, prolonged rainfall caused catastrophic and deadly flooding across southeastern Louisiana. And isn't it also ironic that Scott's dire warnings about the hurricane's destructive potential is based on the data and advice from the very scientists he disparages when it comes to global warming and climate change?
But that doesn't mean that humans can't exacerbate or disrupt this natural variability by warming the planet even more and, by doing so, making the hots hotter, the wets wetter, the storms harsher, the colds colder and the droughts drier. The latest climate assessment by government scientists sheds light on the topic of climate change and hurricanes. Vital climate change research is being ended or curtailed.
"The most unsafe myth that we have bought into as a society is not the myth that climate isn't changing or that humans aren't responsible", she said.
While climate change is a polarizing topic, there is greater agreement on clean energy, according to Charles Hernick, policy and advocacy director at the conservative-leaning advocacy group Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions. People point to images of devastating hurricanes from the early 1900s as examples of how extreme weather has always been part of coastal living. "When you don't want to see, you don't see", he said.
But Hayhoe said people shouldn't cherry-pick scientific facts or think that their beliefs somehow trump reality.
A cautionary tale from New Jersey, which failed to upgrade building standards after Sandy hit it in 2012, should be remembered after Harvey and Irma. With every degree Fahrenheit, the atmosphere can hold and then dump an additional 4 percent of water (7 percent for every degree Celsius), several scientists say. While the science suggests that severe weather will become more frequent thanks to global warming, it is hard to say that global warming caused any specific storm. The ocean is warmer. There are at least 71 confirmed deaths and in Texas more than 300,000 people were left without electricity.
The southern tip of Florida is a known hurricane war zone that has seen eight Category 4 or 5 storms in the last century.
Now, a statement like that, especially from a character like that, has many possibilities - some not so good. "As we go forward in time, there's going to be a tendency for the hurricanes that do form to have heavier rain and, perhaps, stronger winds".