Early Start to Hurricane Season May Be Evidence of Stronger Storms to Come

Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Texas Tech University Climate Science Center, is available to talk about the climate change implications of such an early start to the hurricane season

Pitch

A rare January start to hurricane season may be evidence of changing ocean temperatures, which can make for stronger storms.

Hurricane Alex is only the second hurricane on record to form in the Atlantic Ocean during the month of January; the other was in 1938. Alex also is the first January hurricane to occur in the Atlantic since Alice, which formed Dec. 31, 1954. Alex became the strongest January hurricane on record Thursday when its winds reached an estimated 85 mph, exceeding the 80 mph peak of both Alice and the 1938 hurricane. The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

Alex made landfall as a tropical storm early Friday in The Azores, a group of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean about 850 miles west of Portugal, and was expected to transition into a non-tropical, low-pressure system by late Friday.

Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Texas Tech University Climate Science Center, is available to talk about the climate change implications of such an early start to the hurricane season. Her research focuses on developing and applying high-resolution climate projections to evaluate the future impacts of climate change on human society and the natural environment. She has published more than 120 peer-reviewed publications and served as lead author on key reports for the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Academy of Sciences, including the Second and Third U.S. National Climate Assessments.

She serves on the American Geophysical Union’s Hydrology Committee on Uncertainty, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Predictions and Projections team and the NOAA Climate.gov advisory team. She also serves as a scientific adviser to the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory, Citizen’s Climate Lobby, the EcoAmerica MomentUS project, the Energy and Enterprise Initiative and the Evangelical Environmental Network. In 2014, she was named one of the TIME 100 most influential people in the world and one of Foreign Policy’s 100 global thinkers. She is frequently featured in national media speaking on issues related to climate science, impacts and solutions.

Talking Points

  • Alex is the first Atlantic storm to form in January since 1978 and the first hurricane since 1938.
  • Alex’s strength is unusual because tropical storms thrive most over warm waters, a condition not common in the North Atlantic Ocean in the middle of winter.
  • Human activity is creating more favorable conditions for stronger storms.

Quotes

  • “Hurricanes require warm ocean water. That’s what supplies their energy. The warmer the ocean water, the stronger the hurricane.”
  • “As climate changes due to human activities, more and more of the excess heat being trapped by the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is going into the oceans.”
  • “As the heat content of the oceans increases, so too does their temperature.”
  • “This means the conditions conducive to hurricanes — particularly strong ones — will likely increase as climate changes.”

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Katharine Hayhoe

Associate Professor
Political Science
Katharine Hayhoe

For all media and scheduling inquiries, please contact:
Laura James.

Phone: (806) 834-8665

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