The possibility that the climate crisis may have moved the United States into a troubling new era of incessant catastrophe was discussed, for a few minutes, during Wednesday's vice-presidential debate, in which Vice President Mike Pence argued that "there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago."
On Thursday, Suzana J. Camargo, a research professor in the division of ocean and climate physics at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said that judging hurricane seasons by the mere number of storms misses the point. Besides the fact that the actual number of storms could not be precisely tallied before the satellite era, "just talking about numbers is a little naive," she said, because of the issues of storm intensity, rainfall and surge.
Indeed, many scientists say that several aspects of climate change are making storms more destructive. James P. Kossin, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called the discussion of the number of storms a "red herring" since the trend toward more destructive storms is the more important factor. Climate change may even be reducing the number of weak storms through factors like increased wind shear.
"You're reducing the number of events that aren't particularly dangerous, but you're increasing the number of events that are," he said. "There's any of a number of behaviors that these storms are seeing changes in, and none of them are good."
Hurricane Delta has already ravaged southeastern Mexico near the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, making landfall there early Wednesday. The storm knocked out power, felled trees, shattered windows, and caused scattered flooding in cities and towns along the Caribbean coast. But regional and federal officials said they had received no reports of deaths.
As Delta crossed the peninsula and moved into the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, visitors and residents of the region breathed a sigh of relief that it had delivered a lesser punch than many there had feared.
The hurricane, which had grown to a Category 4 before weakening, is expected to strengthen again and make landfall along the Louisiana coastline on Friday afternoon or evening, said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It could bring between five and 10 inches of rain.