15 years w/o a hurricane: knock on wood and wait

chip fletcher photo of hurricane iniki destruction on kauai

Want evidence that catastrophic weather catalyzes lifestyle changes? Look no further.

As luck would have it, I arrived on Kauai the year before our last hurricane.

In 1992, Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai like a bullseye, and many of us haven't been the same since. I wasn't the only one to lose virtually all of my physical possessions. And I'm certainly not alone in ultimately not missing them.

This was, in many ways, a cathartic, liberating experience. Since then, my ecological footprint has been much smaller. Why? I'm no longer attached to stuff, nor do I need lots of space to keep me and my stuff out of the elements.

Today, my wife and I live in and run two businesses from a 750sf treehouse. There's not a lot of room for stuff here, so most of what comes in gets used up or recycled...not because we're nice to the planet by rather by necessity.

Having said this, it does seem that we're overdue for another hurricane. We only had 10 years between the last two, as Hurricane Iwa struck in 1982.

Yet, the current crop of scientific studies focusing on hurricanes in the Pacific seems equivocal on our prospects (via ocean conserve).

Yes, warmer oceans provide more fuel and potential for hurricanes to form and grow bigger than before.

Still, the evidence seems to suggest that ocean temperature is a small factor, compared with the long-term climate cycle.

Chris Landsea of the U.S. government's National Hurricane Center in Miami considers climate change a minor piece of the puzzle of hurricane intensity compared with long-term climate cycles that can last for decades (via reuters).

When it comes to the relationship between hurricane strength and global warming, "the important question is not, is there an impact, but how much of an impact," says Landsea. "When you look at all of the studies ... it's a pretty tiny sensitivity."

Landsea said hurricanes get about 2 percent stronger for every rise of 1 degree F (.55C) in the sea surface temperature.

Sea surface temperatures have risen an average of about that much in the tropical Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico -- where big hurricanes are nourished -- over the last 100 years, and only about half of that increase is due to human-caused global warming, says Landsea.

He said that 1 percent difference in intensity, gauged by the force of the storm winds, makes little difference, even in a storm with the devastating strength of 2005's Katrina, a top-ranked Category 5 hurricane.

At the same time, NOAA is predicting this year's hurricane season in the islands will be slightly below average, primarily because of La Niña.

Says Jim Weyman, director of NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center, “recent data from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center shows that sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific have become colder than average, and La Niña conditions could develop within the next one to three months. A La Niña would typically result in less tropical cyclone activity forming or moving into the central Pacific.”

Among the factors considered in the seasonal hurricane outlook, says Weyman, are the overall reduction in central Pacific hurricane activity since 1995, and the strong likelihood of ENSO-neutral or La Niña conditions.

So, like the folks in San Francisco who live with the certainty of a major earthquake, we know that another hurricane is coming...Just mebbe not this year.

Check back on 9/11...Iniki's 15th anniversary. Mebbe we'll still be here.

Published by Ken on May 28th, 2007 tagged HI-specific, Island Vulnerabilities

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