Kent State professors blame climate change for natural disasters

Logan Lutton

The apparent recent surge in severe weather in the northern hemisphere is a combination of global warming and changing seasons according to two Kent State professors. 

Thomas Schmidlin, a climatology professor, said that social media is highlighting the issue of natural disasters more than ever.

“These things have always been happening, but we have a pretty global view of everything now,” Schmidlin said.

Schmidlin also said the lack of hurricanes in the past few years makes the recent storms more impactful.

“Those conditions have to be just right,” Schmidlin said. “The U.S. had not had a hit from a major hurricane in 12 years. We had a quiet period and that was going to come to an end with a bang.”

Often, these storms form and dissipate before they reach land or just disappear altogether. This has not been the case this season.  

“Some years, the steering forces in the atmosphere guide more storms to hit land than others,” said Scott Sheridan, a professor and the chair of the geography department. “This year we’ve seen a very unusual set of patterns that have led to more hurricanes hitting land.”

Sheridan said this season, the average sea surface temperature in the Atlantic was on average one or two degrees Celsius warmer than in years past.

“This you can actually connect to human climate change. We don’t typically say that the number of hurricanes can be connected to climate change. However, the warmer the water is, the stronger the hurricane can be,” Sheridan said.  

This means that as climate change continues to worsen, the U.S. may experience more severe storms.

Hurricanes, as well as wildfires, are directly impacted by climate conditions and peak in late summer and early fall.

Wildfires in the western U.S. are another natural phenomenon that have worsened as global temperatures continue to rise. Hot summers with little rain leave natural kindling that ignites easily.

“What we see is that the potential ingredients for drought can be reached a lot more easily in a warmer world,” Sheridan said.

“It’s tough to attribute any one single event to climate change, but I think if you look at the frequency and the intensity…the whole situation is just getting worse,” said Dr. Andrew Curtis, a geography professor.  

As far as prevention goes, climatology research is going to play a big role in understanding future threats and patterns according to Sheridan. Even if severe weather cannot be stopped, further comprehension of humans and their relationship with their environment will help adapt to change.

Logan Lutton is the science reporter. Contact her at [email protected].