Perhaps the largest convention of climate science deniers in history – otherwise known as the 2012 Republican National Convention – starts Monday in Tampa, Florida. Unfortunately for the GOP, they are in the bull’s-eye of the latest track for tropical storm Isaac:
Even worse, Tampa Bay has unique geography that puts it atop the list of US cities most vulnerable to a direct hit from a major hurricane. As meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Jeff Masters explained last week:
About 1/3 of the 4-county Tampa Bay region lies within a flood plain. Over 800,000 people live in evacuation zones for a Category 1 hurricane, and 2 million people live in evacuation zones for a Category 5 hurricane.
Masters points out that in a worst-case scenario, the “Tampa Bay convention center would go under 20 feet of water, and St. Petersburg would become an island, as occurred during the 1848 hurricane”: Minnesota Public Radio chief meteorologist Paul Huttner pointed out today:
“If major evacuations are called for, Tampa’s geography makes it almost impossible to get everybody out of town to safer locations. In fact, possible last hour variations in the eventual track of Isaac may make it impossible to tell residents where to evacuate to.”
That is why the Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn takes any forecast of a major storm headed toward his city very seriously. If Isaac turns out to hurricane and bears down on the GOP convention in Tampa, Buckhorn told CNN, “Absolutely, we’re prepared to call it off”:
Two points on the global warming connection. First, the subject is inevitably going to come up if – as the anniversary of Katrina approaches – we have a hurricane bearing down on a party that in just four years has flipped from running on climate action to running away from climate science (see National Journal: “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones”). Second, as Kevin Trenberth, former head of Climate Analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained in the journal Climatic Change this year:
The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be…. The air is on average warmer and moister than it was prior to about 1970 and in turn has likely led to a 5–10 % effect on precipitation and storms that is greatly amplified in extremes. The warm moist air is readily advected onto land and caught up in weather systems as part of the hydrological cycle, where it contributes to more intense precipitation events that are widely observed to be occurring.
Global warming fuels more intense deluges from major storms like hurricanes. At the same time, warming-driven sea level rise makes storm surges more destructive.
“More than half the total hurricane damage in the US (normalised for inflation and populations trends) was caused by just five events,” explained MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel in an email to me a few years ago. Trenberth has said that because the extremes are disproportionately more destructive and because manmade warming makes them disproportionately more likely, climate change can become the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
The irony of a hoard of GOP climate science deniers descending on this climate-endangered city was underscored when the Tampa Bay Tribune published an article Sunday by Dr J. Marshall Shepherd, president-elect of the American Meteorological Society, on the many serious climate impacts the city faces: Sea level rise, brutal heat waves, ever-worsening deluges and urban flooding, and more intense hurricanes.
Because of the combination of these impacts, major conventions are likely to skip the coastal cities of the Gulf during hurricane season in the coming decades. Sea level rise and ever-worsening storms will make the risks too high. And in the second half of the century, temperatures routinely exceeding 100°F in the summer will ruin many southern cities as convention sites.
Of course, it’s not too late to avert the worst of climate change, but a certain obstructionist party would have to come to its senses and support preventive action now. That may seem impossible today, but consider the final irony. Here’s what Paul Ryan just said about “your President, or your Congressman, or your Senator” (on a different subject):
What if they knew approximately when it was going to happen, and what if they knew how to prevent it from happening and they had the time to do that but they just decided not to because it wasn’t good politics?
What if? People who live in green houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Note: The storm track has been updated. You can find the latest one here.