Climate Change: The Coming Storm

10 March 2009 By Kate Hubert

Along the coast of Queensland in Northeastern Australia, there is a collective sigh of relief as Cyclone Hamish starts to head out to sea. As member Reef Navigator reported in his recent blog, many yachties were busy evacuating their craft deep into the mangroves ahead of the storm surge....

On March 7 2009, Monback, another regular, posted this to a forum on Climate Change: “Over here in the Med we have just been pounded by another violent gale. It’s the third time this winter that west-facing harbours have been destroyed. Bent up, beached yachts everywhere. Last Thursday, the Italian cruise ship Fantasia moored alongside in Palma de Mallorca during a violent gale, tore the bollards out of the quay and drifted to leeward while discharging passengers off the gangway. Dramatic. Crewmembers had to jump into the sea to rescue the passengers. Believe what they tell you about climate change.”

Not surprisingly, over the last few years there’s been a lot of chat about climate change, global warming and severe weather around the world. So what's happening? What will climate change mean to yachties as they plan passages based on “normal” weather patterns? How will it affect us day-to-day?

First, let’s make the distinction between climate and weather – changes in climate are studied over decades and centuries, while localized weather can change in a matter of minutes. It would be wrong to blame a system like Hamish entirely on climate change. But the question remains what, if anything, climate change had to do with it.

For those of you who are shaking your heads and thinking all of this climate change talk is propaganda, let me say this: I for one would dearly love to believe that climate change wasn’t happening, but all the evidence I’ve pored over for the last 20 years has convinced me that it is true. Organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see the link below) look at hundreds of studies with tens of thousands of results – and they overwhelmingly agree that we humans are causing global warming, and as a result the world is changing at a quicker pace than it otherwise would.

Many people say that the current climate change is merely part of a natural cycle – what about the Ice Ages? Absolutely true – the planet’s climate has changed dramatically in the past – from continents covered in ice to vast, arid deserts, etc. But if you look at the graphs, the recent warming is not a blip, or part of a centuries-old trend. It's a sudden, dramatic rise in greenhouse-gas levels and rising temperatures. What worries today's scientists is that we're seeing change in just decades rather than millennia – thousands of times faster than the natural rate of change. Weather patterns and ocean currents are becoming unstable, more violent and unpredictable.

Take the recent Atlantic hurricanes. The 2008 Atlantic Hurricane season was one of the most active on record, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Hurricane Center. A total of 16 named storms formed during the season, including eight hurricanes, five of which were Category 3 or higher. Out of the last 14 years, we’ve seen 10 years of “above normal” hurricane activity.

One thing is certain – Earth is warming up. Sea temperatures are rising – and one of the key factors in generating storms is sea temperature. It makes sense that the warmer the oceans are, the more energy there is to feed storms.

So what about the future? Our prediction of weather patterns relies on using computer-generated models of how the climate will change. These models are becoming increasingly sophisticated and accurate.

The predictions for future tropical cyclones in Australia, for example, are that there will either be the same number of storms or fewer. This might sound like good news, but all the models agree that the storms will be fiercer: By 2050, the most modest model indicates a 22 percent rise in Category 3 to 5 storms. By 2070, one model shows a 140 percent increase.

Prediction, especially of weather, is never an exact science, of course. But if I were to give superyacht captains and crew some advice for the coming years it would be this: Learn about storm survival; expect to encounter more serious hurricanes and cyclones and strive to cut the emission of greenhouse gases wherever you can....

For more information on climate change and global warming:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – this collates all the information being gathered around the world.

A good, easy-tounderstand overview of the facts

Includes details of predicted Cyclone activity

Includes Atlantic Hurricane data and other climate info

An excellent Australian Cyclone site