October 28, 1999, The Daily News
Why all the hurricanes? Look to the 'Great Ocean Conveyor Belf'
Olasee Davis, an ecologist, is a
contributing columnist to The
I just happened to be at WAPA
paying a bill before Hurricane
Jose became a hurricane when I
overheard a customer saying,
"Why are we getting hurricanes in
For many people in the Virgin
Islands. Hurricane Hugo was their
firsi experience of nature's vio.
tencc. The memories of Hurricane
Hugo arme still fresh.
Hurricane Hugo, which caused
approximately $10 billion in dam-
age. had been the costliest hurri-
cane to strike the United States
before Hurricane Andrew three
years later in 1992. Hugo was in
some ways two hurricanes In one.
From Sept. 17.18. in 1989. it
passed through he Virgin Islands
and Puerto Ric,. Icaving S! bil-
lion in damage in its wake.
Hurricane start off the coast of
West Africa, then gradually Intesn-
sify as they cross the Atlantic
Ocean, The two biggest contribi-
totre to a strong hurricane season
am El Ninoe, Pacific Ocean cur-
rent, and. most importantly, heavy
rainfall in the Sahbl region of
Before Hurricane Ilugo. the
Virgin Islands hbad a long period
without major storms striking. In
the minds of many Virgin Islands
residents, why. all ofn sudden, are
hurricanes coming more frequent-
Meteorologist William Gray
theorizes that oscillations in a
worldwide current known as the
"Great Ocean Conveyor Bell" are
ultimately responsible for cycles
in African rainfall, and hence hur-
riciemt People. we are overdue
The first htiucane, of
which we have knowl-
edge, hit the Virgin
Islands on Oct. 14,1526.
for another heavy hurricane cycle
like we had back in the 1700s. The
Great Ocean Conveyor Belt circu-
lates warm tropical water through
the Pacific Rim. across the Indian
Ocean, and up the West Coast of
Africa reaching the Arctic, the
water cools and sinks, and cold
water returns South.
As the the conveyor belt moves
slowly, there is little wind and
moisture to cause monsoons over
West Africa, which stays warm
and dry Over the years, the hot
weather helps evaporate ocean
water, creating salty, heavy water
reaching the North Atlantic. It
cools off and sinks deeply,
strengthening the cold water
"return" of the conveyor belt.
Gradually. this speeds up the
winds and moisture near Africa.
spawning the Sahel rainstorms
that ultimately escalate into hurri-
canes that head toward the
Caribbean and the United States.
Pollution from factories. hair
spray, detorclation, and other
man-made activities on the earth
environment also contribute to the
weather changes in our atmos-
I know you hear the term "green
house effect" or "global warm-
ing." Believe me. we arc living in
time of earth history when nature
will speak to us more by violent
destruction. So as the 20th cenu-'
ry hurricane season comes to a.
close, the 21st century will bring'
violent storms where thousands of
people will lose their lives,
On the question of why hurri-
canes in October?
The first hurricane, of which we
have knowledge, hit the Virgin
Islands on Oct. 14. 1526. On Oct
9. 1916. a severe hurricane, still
remembered by many older Virpi
Islandcrs. last the Islands.