How Hurricane Katrina Transformed Climate Research
The link between climate change and extreme weather is now widely accepted – but that wasn’t always the case. As this Climate Central article reports, climate scientists were only beginning to discover how warming seas seas create stronger hurricanes when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. That disaster brought their findings into the spotlight, causing major debates but also bringing together the disciplines of weather and climate. Since then, scientists have discovered how wind patterns and atmospheric moisture as well as ocean temperature can be altered by climate change and affect the severity of storms. Better climate modeling has also helped them make more accurate predictions about future storms and seasons.
This information is vital in helping coastal communities prepare for climate impacts – and it’s also important in spreading mainstream climate awareness. Extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods are things that ordinary people can relate to. In many cases, their lives or the lives of their loved ones are directly affected. This helps make climate change less abstract and more personal. Many weather forecasters and broadcasters are also highlighting the connection between climate change and weather, which helps make climate belief more acceptable to their audiences.
By Andrea Thompson, contributor to Climate Central
During the summer of 2005, Columbia University climate scientists Adam Sobel and Suzana Camargo were planning a workshop on a topic to which only a handful of scientists had given much thought: how the warming climate might alter hurricane activity.
“It seemed to us sort of like a small, sort of obscure field,” Sobel said, so the pair didn’t expect a large showing. But then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, helping to galvanize scientific interest in the subject. By the time their workshop was held in March 2006, they had five times the expected turnout, Camargo said, amid a surge in research that changed the direction of some careers.
“You could see the impact of Katrina on everyone’s thinking,” Sobel said.
Katrina, along with two blockbuster studies that bookended the disaster, marked the beginning of a decade of rapid growth in a once tiny subfield that has since become one of the most visible in climate science.
Image credit: NASA