BROOKLIN, Canada, (IPS) - The number of super-powerful storms like Hurricane
Katrina has nearly doubled and there will be even more in the future as the
world's oceans continue to warm, scientists say.
The number of Category 4
and 5 hurricanes worldwide has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, according
to a new study published Friday in the journal Science.
surface temperatures have increased the amount of water vapour, which is the
fuel for hurricanes," said study co-author Peter Webster of Georgia Institute of
Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
"I think it's
clear that global warming is causing oceans to warm," he said.
Katrina offers a good illustration of the role of warm water, Webster
Before it struck the US Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina made landfall
in Florida as a Category 1. When it crossed over into the Gulf of Mexico,
however, there was a huge, deep pool of very warm water that served as the
storm's high-octane fuel, he said.
Practically overnight, Katrina turned
into a Category 5 super storm.
At landfall, Katrina weakened to a
Category 4. But with its exceptionally large size, the damage it caused will
cost the U.S. at least 200 billion dollars.
"I wasn't surprised by
[Webster's] results," said Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section
of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
may differ on the details but there is no doubt there has been an increase in
intensity of storms," Trenberth said.
The North Atlantic ocean is
exceptionally hot this year - about 1.5 degrees C warmer than average - and
that's why double the normal number of hurricanes and tropical storms have been
forecast. That extra heat translates into an average intensity or power of these
storms that is also likely to be 15 to 20 percent higher, he said.
should not be forgotten that as the oceans warm, sea levels rise due to thermal
expansion, making storms even more damaging.
"The next 30 years will not
be like the last 30 years. We're in a new regime of stronger hurricanes and
cyclones, we have to plan for that," said Webster.