Tag: hurricanes

Coastal Living

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!

Professor Emanuel & The Climate Revolution

We were lucky to have Professor Emanuel from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology come up to Colby to discuss his knowledge on Hurricanes and the Climate in general. I am a part of Professor Fleming’s Weather, Climate & Society class and I found his question and answer session with us much more engaging than his talk on Tuesday night. During this session I asked him a question that is very important to me. I had read an article the day before on New York Times’s website about we, as a country, could be in for an unprecedented ecological disaster if another major storm hit the coast of Texas due to the large number of petrochemical companies that have set up there since the last major hurricane passed through the area directly. Hurricane Ike narrowly missed the key area near Houston in 2008, but was originally predicted to go through and cause this aforementioned damage, so we got lucky. I asked Professor Emanuel if he had heard of this potential disaster of a situation and he had said that he did. Unfortunately storms like hurricanes cannot have their courses altered with our current technology without setting off a major explosion of some sort. Professor Emanuel said that there is definitely a possibility that it could occur since hurricanes occur around Texas usually around once every six years.

He also discussed how Hurricane Matthew was one of the worst predicted hurricanes that he has ever seen. Matthews was projected to go on so many different paths. At one point it was supposed to go through North and South Carolina and then another point up the St. Lawrence River and directly through New York City. It ended up barely hitting the Carolinas and not doing nearly as much damage as was thought. However, another hurricane that generated around the same time, Nicole, was much further off the coast and meteorologists predicted its path almost perfectly. When asked about this prospect, Professor Emanuel responded that When asked why this forecasting was the case, he said that it was due to variance in weather models in different forecasting zones, adding that sometimes hurricane path predictions are incredibly sporadic. Hurricane predictions can vary for a wide variety of reasons including pressure zones, water temperature, wind flows, etc.

Other topics in our question and answer session included how one theoretical way to stop a hurricane or other major storm is to set off a nuclear bomb/explosion in order to disrupt the flow. The most interesting thing Professor Emanuel said was that he actually set the world record for most time spent flying in the eye of a hurricane. The best part was that he did it by accident. Professor Emanuel is an amazing scholar and I appreciated his presence through this course.