June through November is hurricane season for half the world. Now a new study reveals that Atlantic hurricanes may be getting help from . . . clean air. This surprising fresh air phenomenon could signal rough weather for the United States and Europe.
Scientists have learned much about aerosols and hurricanes. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study links changes in air pollution around the world to levels of storm activity. Specifically, the study connects a decrease in aerosol pollution in Europe and the United States to an increase in Atlantic storm formation. But why?
Aerosols are tiny particles floating in the atmosphere. They can make breathing and seeing difficult. But not all aerosols involve hairspray and car exhaust. Some are natural parts of God’s creation, such as dust, sea salt, or pollen. All aerosols, natural or man-made, can affect Earth’s climate.
Most often, aerosols cool the air, which then cools both land and water. Less aerosol pollution—brought about by laws banning or limiting certain products—has warmed the water in the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes need warm water for fuel. Reduced aerosol pollution also has aided in the decline of wind shear, which involves changes in wind speed and direction. Without wind shear to blow storms off course, they formed more easily.
Hurricane scientist Hiroyuki Murakami led the NOAA aerosol-hurricane study. He analyzed changes in storm activity worldwide. He uncovered this link between aerosols and global storms.
“That’s why the Atlantic has gone pretty much crazy since the mid-90s and why it was so quiet in the ’70s and ’80s,” says climate and hurricane scientist Jim Kossin.
If aerosol levels stay low in the Atlantic, storms could increase and become even more pronounced, according to Murakami.
As researchers looked south, they noticed two very different conditions. In the Pacific, as aerosol pollution from Asian nations increased, tropical cyclone formation lowered. That’s right—more pollution meant fewer typhoons in that part of the world!
For Australia, the drop in European and American aerosol pollution changed global air patterns and resulted in fewer southern hemisphere storms around Australia, just the opposite as in the Atlantic.
Correlations among aerosols, hemispheres, and storms require further research. But for now, many scientists still struggle with what Christians have known all along: “He it is who makes the clouds rise . . . , who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from His storehouses.” (Psalm 135:7)
Why? Weather phenomena and people’s environmental contributions offer opportunities to marvel at the God who created—and controls—all things for His own glory.
Hurricane, Typhoon, or Cyclone?
Hurricanes happen in the Western Hemisphere (mostly Atlantic Ocean).
Typhoons occur in the Eastern Hemisphere (mostly Pacific Ocean).
Cyclones spawn in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans.