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Hurricanes getting bigger, meaner: study

by Archives September 21, 2005

ST. JOHN’S (CUP) — A new study in the scientific journal Nature says hurricanes have become fiercer over the past three decades. The size and power of hurricanes have increased by half in the last 30 years, writes Kerry Emanuel, an expert in atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But Emanuel’s findings are far from conclusive.

“There is a lot of dispute in the scientific community at the present time,” said Norm Catto, a Geography professor at Memorial and an expert in natural disasters. “[But], there is nobody who has said that hurricanes are weakening.”

Catto says scientists disagree on many issues about hurricanes. While climate change is often blamed for the increase in storms, others suggest the earth’s rising temperature could lower the number of hurricanes in the long term.

Other experts say the change in hurricane frequency and strength is just part of a broader cycle.

“The long and short of it is [that] we don’t know,” said Catto. “[But] I think that climate change, whether it is natural climate change or human-[induced] climate change, is a big factor.”

Regardless of the reasons behind the hurricanes, Catto says people should think less about why the storms have worsened and more about how to effectively deal with them.

“We have the ability to greatly minimize the impact of these things because we know when they’re coming,” he said.

Although it is difficult to predict exactly when and where a hurricane will strike, Newfoundland and Labrador is statistically prone to receive one.

“Although we won’t get one of magnitude 5 because we’re too far north, we have received hurricanes of magnitude 1 and 2 over the past 20 years,” he said.

“We have to recognize that these things will occur and we need to be ready … [by] anticipating flooding like we had with Gabriel in 2001 and Gustav in 2002.”

Catto says that regularly inspecting sea walls and drainage systems is vital to preventing too much damage. As well, the government should budget for road repairs and insurance claims.

But, most importantly, citizens must take warnings and evacuation notices seriously.

Once protective measures are in place, people can return to bickering over the cause of the surge in hurricanes’ power, blaming everyone else, or trying to prove facts for certain.

“[It’s important] not to assume that these are one shot events and once it happens then it won’t happen again,” Catto said. “The evidence … is that we do receive these storms quite frequently.”

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