It’s not often you read a short biography on a man whose interests include meteorology, climate, and hurricane physics, and whose lecture intro also includes a story of his participation in beer pong while visiting Colby. However, Kerry Emanuel is not your average climate scientist. One of the most renowned and prominent in his field, Emanuel takes particular interest in hurricanes and their patterns, with a faculty position at MIT and countless scientific paper publications and several books. However Emanuel’s skills are not limited to his impressive knowledge of climate science and hurricanes – he also maintains an engaging ability for public speaking, laced with humor and personal anecdotes. One anecdote included his vivid descriptions of flying into the eyes of hurricanes and the tranquility associated with such an unforgiving beast. Such an environmental paradox remains beautiful yet confusing, much like another point Professor Emanuel spoke on – the constant rebuilding of coastal destruction.
Having touched on the coastal havoc which hurricanes wreak, Emanuel received the following question from a student. “Why do we keep building in coastal regions such as New Orleans and Florida for them to be consequently destroyed?”. Emanuel shared that “culture subsides on coasts, which thus leads to lots of dangerous and risky building,” a vicious, unavoidable cycle of “death” and “rebirth” with no room for growth. But having experienced the unthinkable damage caused by hurricanes and natural disasters, why haven’t we developed more reactive and responsive infrastructure, able to withstand the perils of natural disasters? Stuck in the constant cycle of destruction and rebuilding, there lacks a growth factor due to the consistency of Mother Nature’s damage. Is our inability to respond appropriately due to the sheer strength and magnitude of hurricanes and necessity for coastal access?
In part, this is dependent on the strength of forecasting, another topic of discussion for Professor Emanuel. Coincidentally, Professor Emanuel was able to use Hurricane Matthew as an example, with Matthew’s unpredictability being such a defining mark of its pattern. While some hurricanes are much more difficult to predict, some (like Matthew) deviate from any preconceived path, or follow as they “are expected to” on one of any number of routes. A true scientific revolution would be increased storm forecasting, which would at least allow for more ample preparation if not more responsive and appropriate infrastructure. With an increase in natural disasters as a result of human contribution to unstable weather and climate, we will hopefully be able to gather a more comprehensive and predictive understanding of dangerous weather patterns, though unfortunately at the likely expense of extreme damage. Hopefully, this occurs before the threat of Emanuel’s hypothesized ‘hypercane’ becomes legitimate!