Hurricane Warning

March 29, 2016

There's an old folktale in Hatteras, told when skies are grey, persistent clouds loom over the coastlines and rain pours without signs of stopping; the story of the Grey Man. Every once in a while the Outer Banks finds itself in the path of a major hurricane. Being North Carolina's outside barrier island system, these communities see the worst of the storm. 


The story goes that before the most intense hurricanes make landfall, a grey figure can be seen strolling the beaches of Hatteras Island. He's seen by locals as a warning. No one knows his exact identity, some say he was a local who passed during a major hurricane. Some say a sailor lost to the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Whatever his origin, his message is clear. 

Having grown up on the gulf coast of southwest Florida, hurricanes are famaliar and (being a kid obsessed with meteorology) fascinating events to me. Tracking these ocean-born storms and reading about intense historic ones was a favorite hobby. The most intriguing fact perhaps was that the ocean some how created hurricanes and the warm water near the equater gave them energy, while once making landfall they would lose that energy. 
















Now I understand the chemistry and temperature of the oceans are the driving mechanisms behind this phenomenon. The ocean is not only a driver for hurricanes, but also the Earth's climate as a whole. As these ocean processes is being offset by greenhouse gas emissions, so will the climate.


Some may say 'who cares if the temperature of earth is a few degrees hotter, sounds like longer summers to me' but what we need to understand is that as the temperature is rising it's being driven by the increase in carbon dioxide. With rising carbon dioxide levels in the air, then being transfered to the sea, the oceans are becoming more acidic (literally dissolving the shells of sea animals and corals). 


And so apart from not being able to dine on your favorite shellfish or view beautiful underwater corals reefs, as the ocean is warming and as the ocean's chemistry is changing, we will see more intense storms and weather. Hurricanes with stronger winds, more rain and higher storm surges. Imagine Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy being the typical hurricane. Now imagine the costs; lives lost, property damage. 


So unless we can turn this around and stop our oceans from changing, the Grey Man will probably be seen much more frequently, warning those living in this vulnerable place of the storm ahead. 


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