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David Phillips Doesn’t Think We’re Done With Strong Hurricanes Yet

Still considering a getaway to the Caribbean, maybe Jamaica or St. Lucia, two spots so far unscathed by hurricanes this year?

Well, if you think the worst is over for hurricanes this year, think again.

Environment Canada Climatologist David Phillips says there is lots of time for another bad one.

“It really doesn’t end until the end of November,” says Phillips fresh from his own vacation in hurricane-free Europe. “We know that the conditions that have produced these kind of very expensive, very active year are still there; warmer waters, favourable winds.”

So far, this year we have had 12 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean. When rainfall from Harvey and catastrophic winds from Irma are taken into account, forecasters say 2017 is one for the record books, but it still falls short of 2005. Wilma of that year maintains the record for the strongest winds and Katrina for total damage. In 2005, there were 28 named storms, including four that reached category five status.

So is climate change really impacting the frequency, strength, and destructibility of hurricanes?

Phillips says both yes, and no.

“I mean I don’t think climate change caused these events,” he says. “They may have made them worse. Climate change doesn’t create the weather; it only can energize it, fuel it. I think the other thing that is important that we can’t neglect is the fact that our land use has changed.”

Houston is a prime example of a city that has grown substantially with little to no land development regulation, putting more people in harm’s way, while eliminating natural wetlands that used to collect vast amounts of rainwater.

Typically, the hurricane season starts to wind down in October and November, but Phillips says it is not a rule, so much as a suggestion.

“Super Storm Sandy was a Halloween storm, and we know that it was one of the more expensive, disastrous storms in North American history,” he says. “I wouldn’t write the final chapter on hurricanes yet.”