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Severe Hurricanes Increasing, Study Finds

Adeline Perkins, foreground, and Lynell Batiste, carrying their dogs, and Kewanda and Ulysses Batiste, right, battle floodwater churned up by Hurricane Katrina as they fled their Lacombe, La., home Aug. 29.
Adeline Perkins, foreground, and Lynell Batiste, carrying their dogs, and Kewanda and Ulysses Batiste, right, battle floodwater churned up by Hurricane Katrina as they fled their Lacombe, La., home Aug. 29. (By Mari Darr~welch -- Associated Press)

But both Emanuel and Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said today's Science paper is important because it examines worldwide hurricane patterns.

"If you look at it on the global basis, it makes that signal of global warming easier to see," Schmidt said. "You have to be extremely conservative -- with a small 'c' -- to think [rising sea temperatures and stronger hurricanes] are not related."

And some hurricane experts who previously have questioned the influence of global warming now say the evidence is mounting that it has contributed to recent intense tropical storms.

Florida International University researcher Hugh Willoughby, who headed NOAA's hurricane research division between 1995 and 2003, said the recent two hurricane studies are "very persuasive" and helped move him "toward the climate corner" of the debate.

"It's really hard to find any holes in this, and I'm the kind of person who's inclined to look for holes," he said of the new study in Science. The arguments against the connection between climate change and more intense storms, he added, are "looking weaker and weaker as time goes by."

Katrina reanimated a transatlantic argument over global warming policy as critics of the Bush administration have seized on it to promote mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The American president shuts his eyes to the economic and human damage that the failure to protect the climate inflicts on his country and the world through natural catastrophes like Katrina," Germany's environmental minister, Jurgen Trittin, wrote in an opinion piece printed Aug. 30 in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.

But Bill Holbrook, spokesman for Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), said the senator has no intention of pushing for new emissions curbs.

"It is reprehensible for a politician to promote an agenda by twisting a tragedy Americans feel so deeply about, particularly when there is no merit to his ideas," Holbrook said of Trittin. "Policy decisions should be based on sound science, and the notion that Katrina's intensity is somehow attributable to global warming has been widely dismissed by scientific experts."

Arguing that the science of global warming remains uncertain, President Bush in 2001 disavowed the Kyoto treaty that sets mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and he has pursued policies calling for more research and voluntary efforts to limit emissions.


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