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ASU climatologist says trio of hurricanes might just be bad coincidence

September 13, 2017

ASU professor's research is on extreme weather; says recent powerful storms don't necessarily point to climate change

Arizona's official climatologist says she thinks the recent trio of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose may simply be a terrible and unfortunate coincidence and is not necessarily a result of global warming.

Nancy Selover, a professor in ASU's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban PlanningThe School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning is a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., focuses on extreme weather in her research. Selover educates groups around Arizona on climate topics, including urban heat islands, monsoons, drought, climate change and Arizona's climate more generally. She recently spoke to ASU Now about one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in decades.

Woman in blue shirt
Nancy Selover

Question: Are these three hurricanes occurring so close to each other a rare coincidence or a harbinger of things to come?

Answer: I think it’s a rare coincidence. We typically see hurricanes follow each other moving into the Caribbean, particularly at the peak of the season (which is now). One of these formed in the Gulf and the other formed in the Caribbean, and both benefitted from extremely warm water, which is required to get to Category 5, among other factors.

Q: So is this not a result of global warming as others in academia have claimed?

A: I don’t think this is a result of global warming as we have had many storms more powerful than these prior to 1960, including many Category 5 and 4 storms. We tend to focus on the most recent storms as being worse than historical storms because we have so much coverage of them and a larger population that puts itself in the path of the storms. The probability of a major hurricane making landfall anywhere on the Gulf or Atlantic coast is exactly the same as it was 100 years ago. What is not the same is that 100 years ago the number of people at risk by being in the path was at least one order of magnitude smaller.

Q: Do you predict hurricanes will become stronger and more powerful in the future? 

A: It’s been 12 years since Katrina and Rita, and it has been relatively quiet since then, other than Sandy, which was very different in its path and timing and was at the end of the season. Sandy was not even a hurricane when it came ashore, so I think it’s important to remember that any tropical storm has the capacity to devastate a coastal community. If the ocean waters become warmer, the available energy for major hurricanes increases, but warm water is not the only condition necessary for forming, strengthening or sustaining a hurricane. If it were, then Jose would have followed Irma as a Category 4 or 5.

Q: Any other types of weather-related disasters you think might be coming our way? 

A: If the warmer waters of the eastern Pacific, western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are sustained, more evaporation will occur and we will have the potential for heavier rain (or snow) events due to the increased moisture. It would be nice if it came in the winter as snow. But for the past few years, it has been adding to the monsoon moisture resulting in some heavier rain events, which lead to local flash flooding.

Q: What are preventive measures that we as a society can do to ensure the longevity of our planet? 

A: That’s an impossible question to answer as the planet will be fine regardless of what we do. I think the longevity of ourselves and the ecosystems are of more concern. The Earth has changed drastically over hundreds of millions of years and will continue to do so, with or without us.  

Q: What type of natural disasters might Arizona be facing one day? 

A: We have earthquakes, though small, and our volcanic activity is probably behind us. Our weather-related disasters will continue to be the same ones we currently have: winter storms, heavy rain or rain-on-snow leading to flooding, drought and wildfires. We aren’t likely to have hurricanes, though we do get the remnants of tropical storms mixed into the monsoon. We do have tornadoes, but typically only EF3 or smaller, and even the very small ones are rare. I don’t expect that will change. Because we are an arid state, we have so much variability already in our weather that we do a much better job than most places in handling that variability.

 
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Know your Constitution? 3/4 of Americans can't name all 3 branches of government
September 14, 2017

In honor of Constitution Day, ASU hosts events to promote understanding and appreciation of our nation’s fundamental law

Think Americans have a pretty firm grasp on the basics of U.S. government? Think again.

The annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey recently found that only a quarter of those surveyed could name all three branches of government. What’s more, more than a third couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.

That’s troubling news to Peter McNamara, a professor of practice at Arizona State University's School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL).

“[Those stats] mean for one thing that it is very hard for people with such limited political knowledge to participate meaningfully and constructively in civic debate,” he said. “Of course, another problem is the things that people think they know but are not actually true! I guess what these kinds of studies show is that there is a lot of work to be done on the civic education front.”

SCETL — launched in the spring — is rising to that challenge. On Thursday evening the school hosted its inaugural Constitution Day Lecture in the University Club on the Tempe campus to promote understanding and appreciation of our nation’s bedrock document. Clint Bolick, associate justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, delivered the lecture titled “The Renaissance of Federalism.” Watch highlights from the evening below:

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Earlier this week, SCETL kicked off its yearlong public lecture series “Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Society.” And it will host another lecture from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, at Hayden Library to celebrate Constitution Day at ASU.

At Monday’s talk, titled “Hamilton and ‘Hamilton,’” McNamara will discuss the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, as portrayed in the hit musical “Hamilton” (which comes to ASU Gammage in January). McNamara will pay special attention to each man's views on the Constitution.

To help beef up your constitutional cachet, here are five lesser-known facts about the historical document:

1. The Constitution was nearly not ratified

“Just as we have ‘battleground states’ and ‘safe states’ in our elections today, there were some less eventful state ratifying conventions (e.g., Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut), and others that were hotly contested (e.g., Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia),” said Zachary German, SCETL assistant professor.

Rhode Island initially rejected passage of the Constitution, even refusing to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. It took two and a half years before the state finally agreed to ratify, at which point it had already gone into effect.

In Pennsylvania, “Some delegates opposed to ratification were dragged from their boardinghouses to attend the vote in the state assembly (in Philadelphia) so that the assembly could meet its quorum,” said School of Politics and Global Studies Lecturer Tara Lennon. 

2. Why we celebrate Constitution Day on Sept. 17

This one’s pretty simple: The reason we have Constitution Day on Sept. 17 is because it was the last day the convention met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. That was the day all of the delegates still present stepped forward to sign their names with Gen. George Washington, who presided as the president of the convention.

3. The ‘pamphlet wars’ played a crucial role in ratification

“In the pamphlet wars over ratification, it was customary on both sides to use pseudonyms, such as ‘The Federal Farmer’ or ‘Publius,’ withholding authors’ identities in order to keep the focus on ideas and arguments, rather than personalities,” German said.

In a last-ditch effort to sway delegates in Virginia, the Federalist Papers were shipped down to the state, where Washington helped to reprint and distribute them — and it worked.

“It was really only a few votes that made the difference in Virginia,” said Paul Carrese, director of SCETL.

4. Memorable names took some convincing

Elbridge Gerry — the Massachusetts governor who approved a salamander-shaped state senate district to favor his political allies, thus giving rise to term “gerrymander” — was originally famous for being one of three delegates who at the end of the convention refused to sign. And even John Hancock — the man with the most famous, iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence — was opposed to ratification as late as January 1788.

Both men eventually voted in favor of it; Hancock doing so after assurances were made regarding the promise of the first 10 amendments, and Gerry after taking the advice of leading delegates such as Benjamin Franklin and Washington who pleaded with delegates to swallow their particular objections and support the larger good achieved by the new frame of government. Gerry later served in the U.S. House and as vice president under James Madison.

5. George Washington thought we should be thankful for it

According to McNamara, on Oct. 3, 1789, Washington issued a proclamation that Nov. 26, 1789, be designated a day of Thanksgiving to God for the “favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”