Do you remember the record breaking Atlantic Hurricane season of 2005? Unless you were too young to be paying attention, it should ring a bell. We had 29 named storms including Dennis, Irene, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and a few Greek letter names since we ran out of our own alphabet. It was a bad year for people on the coasts from Central America up to New England.
Now do you remember the dire predictions being made in the media? That year was supposed to be the beginning - the harbinger of things to come. Hurricanes were getting bigger and more frequent and more horrifying due to global warming. All the major news outlets raised that question and found people willing to put themselves out there with those dramatic predictions.
So, what happened? Why haven't all of our coastal cities been wiped off the map yet? Good questions.
Despite the fact that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased, the number of hurricanes has not and neither has the intensity. In fact, taking a quick count and average of the number of hurricanes from 1998-2004 and from 2006-2014 (the years available on the National Hurricane Center's website), both time periods surrounding historic 2005 have averaged 14 hurricanes per year.
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Last month at the American Meteorological Society's 43rd Conference on Broadcast Meteorology here in Raleigh, Matthew Bolton presented a research paper in which he studied tropical cyclone data from around the world, not just the Atlantic Basin. His findings were that the number of hurricanes globally have remained relatively constant since the 1950's.
After analyzing datasets from around the world, he and his research partner H. M. Mogel concluded "that high activity levels in one basin are often balanced by low activity in others. The Atlantic – Eastern Pacific couplet is only one such example." The researchers found an average of 70 named storms worldwide annually, and their study suggested that "hurricane strength globally" is declining.
Does this mean that climate change is a hoax? No. What it does illustrate is that the atmosphere and the climate is much more complicated than we know, and with each study we learn more about what might be affected and how. That is the beauty of science. Questions lead to answers which lead to more questions. Research begets research.