Harvey, Irma, José, Katia, Maria… this summer’s march of Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms has seemed never-ending, bringing destruction to the Caribbean and the southern states of the USA. Meanwhile, here on the Canaries this summer has seen heatwaves and calimas. Has our weather changed for good, and what will that mean?
This year’s hurricane season has been the most destructive since 2005, with Hurricane Harvey the first major storm to make landfall in the USA since Katrina and Wilma, twelve years ago. In addition, hurricanes Irma, José, Katia and Maria have caused over 160 deaths and caused more than €130 billion worth of damage, mostly in the Caribbean.
It was widely expected that this year’s hurricane season would be more active than usual, and the period from June to November every year sees several storm systems arise in the central Atlantic. However, many experts have claimed that climate change may be the reason for the sheer destructiveness and intensity of this year’s storms. Hurricane Harvey, for example, gained in strength before hitting the US – an extremely rare occurrence caused by warmer water at deeper levels.
2017 is still far behind 2005 in the record books. That season not only shattered several records, but also saw Tropical Storm Delta hit the Canary islands. Forming late in the hurricane season, Delta did not move westwards like most storm systems, but headed erratically towards the east instead, causing €312 million of damage and killing 19 people on the islands.
Since Delta, the Canaries has experienced a number of storms of lesser ferocity, and many climate experts believe that climate change has increased the chance of eastward-moving storm systems. Reasons for this are complicated, but include the melting of polar ice caps, which produces effects in ocean currents that weaken the prevailing weather systems influencing the islands.
This weakening means that other weather systems have greater influence, for example; blocks of hot air from the African mainland and stormy weather from the central Atlantic. Jesús Agüera, the Canarian delegate for Spain’s meteorological agency AEMAT, stated earlier this year that trends show that storms are occurring earlier in the Canaries. “Winter is no longer the rainy season in the Canaries; now it is autumn,” he claimed. Agüera also says that local rain patterns have changed in intensity, resulting in fewer storms, but ones that are more intense.
Nevertheless, despite changes you can guarantee that Lanzarote and the Canaries will see far less rain than the rest of Europe.
The Heat is On
Often you feel it before you see it; a close, oppressive, dry heat that is not relieved by breezes. Look out of the window and the sky seems fuzzy and blurred. It’s another calima – the dust clouds from Saharan Africa that are becoming ever more regular elements of Canarian life.Read more...
This spring and summer has seen several calimas on the islands, with temperatures reaching more than 40 degrees during the worst heatwave in August. And experts believe we can expect more. Canarian summers have, on average, risen in temperature since the early 90s, a period of time which has seen six of the hottest summers on the islands since records began in the 1940s. In contrast, the 26 coldest Canarian winters all took place last century. Meanwhile, experts say that we can expect more calimas, which are also likely to shift to earlier in the year.
The Canarian Government estimates that temperatures are rising by at least 0.17 degrees celsius every decade, while the Spanish Institute of Oceanography claims that sea temperatures are rising by at least 0.26 degrees every decade. Rising sea temperatures are also resulting in a measurable increase in sea levels, estimated at up to 6 cms in the Canaries.
Global warming has also been linked with natural phenomena such as the plagues of toxic micro-algae that closed a number of Canarian beaches this summer.
So far, record tourism figures show that climate change in the Canaries has had no effect on the islands’ main source of income, and this perhaps is due to similar unpredictable conditions in the countries where tourists come from. While Britain sweltered in a heatwave in June, the summer soon became one of the wettest on record. While the sun can be guaranteed to shine on the Canaries, it seems people will continue to flock here.
2017’s hurricane season may have prompted a backtrack from Donald Trump’s administration on withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Trump’s announcement in June caused huge controversy and left the USA alongside Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries in the world outside the agreement. Since then, Trump has been forced to visit Texas, Louisiana and Florida, all of which have been battered and flooded by 2017’s seemingly endless parade of Atlantic storms.
Last month, White House officials said that Trump was “willing to work with partners if we can construct a set of terms that we believe is fair and balanced for the American people.”
What these terms may boil down to is a face-off between the USA and China, which Trump believes has received preferential treatment in the Paris Agreement. The USA, nevertheless, remains the world’s second biggest producer of carbon emissions measured per person, ranking behind only the United Arab Emirates.