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Extreme weather and looming hurricane season keep scientists on alert

posted 31 May 2011, 13:12 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 31 May 2011, 13:15 ]

This week marks the beginning of hurricane season in the United States and scientists will be watching closely in the wake of extreme weather patterns that have devastated the Midwest. One of the questions they're trying to answer focuses on the impact of climate change and global warming. Ben Gruber reports.


REUTERS/ NBC/ UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI/ NOAA -  Deadly tornadoes and record-high rainfall have cut a path of death and destruction throughout the US midwest in recent weeks. The region is known for such weather, but this year has been extreme.

According to Scientists, one of the reasons may lie far away near the equator in the Pacific Ocean.

It's known as La Nina, a condition where ocean surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific are cooler than normal.


When La Nina is in affect, it can shift weather patterns all over the planet and, according to Professor Brian Soden at the University of Miami, create perfect conditions for extreme weather.

BRIAN SODEN, DEPARTMENT OF METEOROLOGY AND OCEANOGRAPHY, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING:

"In a La Nina event, it actually makes the atmosphere over the Atlantic more unstable which is more conducive to the development of tropical storms and hurricanes."

Soden and his colleague, Professor Ben Kirtman, are keeping a close watch over the current La Nina. They say if equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures do not rise, it could mean a more intense Atlantic hurricane season.


Over the long-term, they say global warming and climate change might also come into play with global weather patterns.

 BRIAN SODEN, DEPARTMENT OF METEOROLOGY AND OCEANOGRAPHY, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING:

"You can expect things as the climate warms to see more frequent extreme rainfall events, more frequent droughts. So, in terms of the precipitation you get an increase in the severity of the extremes. You can also expect to see more frequent heat waves. But again, these things become apparent on the decade to decade time scales."


But there is some disagreement over the issue of climate change, which is why it's the subject of intensive research around the world.

BEN KIRTMAN, DEPARTMENT OF METEOROLOGY AND OCEANOGRAPHY, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING:

"We don't know how global warming will affect El Nino and La Nina. Are models are very much in disagreement, our understanding of the impacts of climate change on what is going to happen to El Nino is in its most immature state. This is a very contested hot research topic and the answer is we just don't know."


Both scientists say that computational models of weather patterns are improving and that one day science will be able to save lives by better predicting and tracking extreme weather.


Ben Gruber, Reuters.

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