and why Gustav wasn’t as bad as Katrina – The theory that global warming may be contributing to stronger hurricanes in the Atlantic over the past 30 years is bolstered by a new study.

Using global satellite data, researchers James B. Elsner, James P. Kossin and Thomas H. Jagger found that the strongest tropical cyclones are, in fact, getting stronger?and that ocean temperatures play a role in driving this trend. Elsner says, “As seas warm, the ocean has more energy that can be converted to tropical cyclone wind.”

M.I.T. climatologist Kerry Emanuel first suggested the possible connection between global warming and increases in tropical cyclone intensity in 2005, when he linked the increased intensity of storms to the heating of the oceans, which has been attributed to global warming.

Emanuel’s theory is that the intake of warm air near the ocean surface and the exhaust of colder air above the cyclone is what drives a hurricane. Other factors being equal, the warmer the ocean, the warmer the intake of air.

Robert Fleming, an expert on emergency preparedness, contrasts the response to Katrina as “largely unorganized and dysfunctional at all levels of government” with the recent response to Gustav as “a highly coordinated and collaborative effort where ensuring the life safety and the well being of those living in the impacted areas became the ‘mission’ driving all aspects of the preparation and the response.”

We have to be ready, because we never know what’s coming. As Elsner says, “We still do not have a complete understanding of why some cyclones intensify, sometimes quite rapidly, and others don’t.”

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