Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Hurricane Dorian: Why are more extreme storms stalling?
The Category 5 hurricane was moving at speeds of about 1 mph over the Bahamas on Sunday and Monday.
- Hurricane Dorian is one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, with wind speeds of more than 200 mph.
- The storm was moving slowly over the Bahamas as a result of clashing high- and low-pressure systems.
- It's unclear whether climate change is causing shifts in large-scale wind patterns, but scientists generally agree that warmer temperatures are causing storms to become stronger.
Hurricane Dorian became on Sunday the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Bahamas, pummelling islands with 200-mph winds and more than 20 feet of coastal flooding. At its strongest point, the Category 5 storm — the most severe ranking — floated nearly motionless over the islands, inching along at about 1 mph as it dropped more than 2 feet of rain. At least five people in the Bahamas were killed by the storm.
By Monday, Dorian was a Category 4 storm. On Tuesday, the slow-moving hurricane had lost much of its steam and was downranked to Category 2. But Dorian has grown in size if not force, and it's expected to move northerly over the Atlantic, parallel with the coast of Florida and, later, Georgia and the Carolinas. Violent winds have already struck parts of Florida, and officials in multiple states have already ordered thousands of residents to evacuate.
The core of Dorian is finally moving away from Grand Bahama Island. At 1 pm Dorian was located 50 mi N of Freeport… https://t.co/z4GakuHlWO— NWS Eastern Region (@NWS Eastern Region)1567530851.0
"I can't decide for you, but I'm asking you, as the mayor of Savannah: Please attempt to get out of town as best you can, and come back in a few days and begin your life over and move forward," Eddie DeLoach, mayor of Savannah, Georgia, said in a public appearance Monday night, according to The Savannah Morning News.
For now, the main focus of residents and officials in the storm's path is safety, rescue and, eventually, reconstruction. But for scientists who study storms and climate change, Dorian's intensity and brutal sluggishness highlight how warming temperatures are changing the nature of extreme storms around the globe.
A pattern of stalling hurricanes
In recent years, scientists have identified a pattern: Severe hurricanes are not only becoming stronger and more common, but many are also moving more slowly and even stalling, as Hurricane Harvey did over Houston for days in 2017, dumping 60 inches of rain in the process. A study published in June by NASA and NOAA scientists showed that the average forward speed of North Atlantic hurricanes has slowed from 11.5 mph in 1944 to 9.6 mph in 2017.
So, is climate change making hurricanes slower? It's too early to say for sure, and the issue is still an area of debate among climate scientists. In the case of Dorian, the violent storm stalled above the Bahamas because, somewhat ironically, the atmosphere was too calm; a clash between high- and low-pressure systems caused the weather pattern to come to a standstill.
"Was it caused by climate change?" is the most common question when we hear about an extreme event. But when it com… https://t.co/XtckqQCmNa— Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (@Prof. Katharine Hayhoe)1567272551.0
But scientists generally believe that warmer temperatures in the Arctic are likely playing a part in slowing down wind patterns, as NOAA hurricane expert Jim Kossin, co-author of the June study, told InsideClimate News:
"...in the broadest sense, global warming makes the global atmospheric circulation slow down," he said. "There is a lot of evidence to suggest this is more than just natural variability."
How exactly warmer temperatures affect wind patterns is a complicated issue that needs further research. But there's little debate among climate scientists as to whether climate change is making storms worse and more common.
"The environment for all such storms has changed because of climate change," Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Inside ClimateNews. "The oceans are warmer, especially in the upper 100 meters, which is most important for such storms," Trenberth said. "This makes available more energy via water vapor for the storms and makes for more activity: more intensity, bigger and longer lasting storms, with heavier rainfalls."
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.