Was hurricane #Patricia an undeniable sign of climate change? It's a question with no definitive answer. It was the strongest storm on record. To the extent that climate change is a very relevant topic to humanity, Patricia was also very significant. Were Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina at least partially caused by man-made climate change? These events do speak to how climate change should be politically prioritized. Should governments endeavor to address things like defense, poverty, and so forth first before climate change? And how relevant are domestic concerns like gun control and a woman's right to choose in the face of catastrophic environmental disasters?
The truth is that no one can tell to what extent human-caused climate change led to Hurricane Patricia or similar apocalyptic-like environmental events. As Eric Holthaus wrote in a recent article on slate.com: “But it is exactly the kind of terrifying storm we can expect to see more frequently in the decades to come. Although there’s no way to know exactly how much climate change is a factor in Patricia’s explosive strengthening, it’s irresponsible, at this point, not to discuss it.”
Climate change boosts the frequency of the worst in weather. The current, massive El Niño weather event, along with rising ocean levels and rising oceanic and atmospheric temperatures, all contributed to Patricia. Climate change not only causes there to be more frequent strong hurricanes, but more frequent strong El Niño’s as well.
“ / What’s easier to attribute is the fact that, El Niño or not, the temperature of global oceans—and more importantly, the total heat content stored in the top layer of the world’s oceans—is skyrocketing. The carbon dioxide released by fossil fuel burning does a great job of trapping the sun’s energy, and recent research has shown most of that energy—more than 90 percent—is being funneled into the oceans. Hurricanes use that extra energy as fuel for the thunderstorms that swirl around their centers. Warmer water increases the intensity of updrafts, which draw in humid, tropical air, and in turn, increases the chances of rapid storm intensification. In this way, storms forming in today’s climate probably have a better chance to reach their maximum potential intensity, as Patricia has.\ ”