Four hurricanes hit the state of Florida in the last month, a
sequence of disasters that has not occurred in the last century and
a half. The devastation and destruction caused by these swirling
storms was enormous, enough for President Bush to declare the
entire state of Florida a natural disaster area.

Beth Dykstra
A satellite image collected on Sept. 25 shows Hurricane Jeanne making landfall near the southern tip of Hutchinson Island, Fla. (Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Experts say this tirade of storms is due to random events.

“There is no obvious human influence on hurricanes or even
an El Niño,” said Prof. Perry Samson, associate chair
of the Department of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.
“Abnormal weather is normal.”

Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist of the website Weather
Underground, said weather is unpredictable. “The odds of
Florida being hit by a major hurricane, category 3 or higher, are
about 23 percent. If you do the math, the chance of Florida being
hit by 3 major hurricanes, and one that was almost a category 3, is
one in every 300 years.”

The only factor that may have some sort of effect is the average
temperature of the oceans, Samson said. Hurricanes obtain their
enormous amount of energy from the oceans, so the energy is
directly related to the temperature of the water.

Recently, there has been an increase in ocean temperature due to
global warming effects. The warming of the oceans allows the
average internal energy of the oceans to increase as well. The
hurricane sucks up energy from the ocean to the sky, and it begins
to build up in a billowing fashion, surrounded by swirling winds.
When a hurricane essentially “grabs” the ocean water,
which is now at a higher temperature, the hurricane’s energy,
and therefore its power, will increase.

But Samson does not think ocean temperature plays a major role
in the big picture of hurricane power. This theory is still
primarily speculation, he said.

Samson added that the ocean’s temperature will only
increase slightly because of the ocean’s immense size and
thus wouldn’t translate well into hurricane power and
frequency.

Samson also dismissed the notion that El Niño has
anything to do with the recent increase in hurricanes. El
Niño, a phenomena that results in anomalous weather
conditions over the Pacific Ocean, is mostly a west coast weather
event, he said.

But Masters believes that an El Niño inhibits hurricane
weather, and an El Niño will possibly occur next.
Nonetheless, Masters predicts that hurricanes will increase over
the next 10 to 20 years, not including the El Niño
years.

“Florida went 14 years without a major hurricane, which is
pretty remarkable,“ said Masters. “Looking back at the
’40s and ’50s, hurricanes were very prevalent, but then
went through a period from the ’60s through ’90s where
there were not many hurricanes.” Masters believes that it is
possibly that we will return back to the era of frequent
hurricanes

Samson dismisses speculation that global warming is actually the
cause of the recent rash in hurricanes. With the average
temperature of the air rising along with ocean temperature, one
would think that this could possibly affect weather climate, Samson
said.

But he attributes this increase to another El Niño.

“It’s just the luck of the draw,” Samson said.
The possibility of four hurricanes hitting the same state during
the same month again is exactly the same as it was 150 years ago;
extremely rare. “It can happen next week or not for another
75 years. Weather is extremely unpredictable.”

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