'Category 6' hurricane?

Former Vice President Al Gore’s comment in the Washington Post that hurricanes were becoming so strong that a “Category 6” designation was in the works drew a rejoinder from the paper’s weather editor, meteorologist Jason Samenow.

One thing the hurricane specialists and the scientists tracking global temperature changes generally agree upon is that the effects of worldwide warming on hurricanes remain uncertain.

For a tidy summary of the state of what isn’t and isn’t known, see this fact sheet from the National Climate Data Center.

A few key points: Recent seasons have been quite active, but these periods of activity appear to run in cycles; overall, correcting for tropical storms missed in the pre-satellite area, the numbers haven’t changed much.

That said, the impacts of hurricanes have increased exponentially in recent years and are likely to get worse.

The incredible costs of hurricanes has everything to do with human development at the coast, which has undergone an unprecedented growth spurt since the 1970s.

As far as we can tell, the retreat movement isn’t getting anywhere.

Another factor to consider in the future is rising sea level, a process that has been going on since the glaciers started melting 12,000 to 18,000 years ago and is forecast to pick up speed in the 21st Century.

Very simply, higher seas mean higher storm surges and more-powerful waves, even assuming that the current hurricane scale remains stuck at 5.

The overwhelming majority of all federal disaster-assistance money has gone to hurricane cleanups. We would be surprised if that trend didn’t continue.