Dust devils, water spouts, tornadoes, hurricanes and cyclones are all born of the same mechanism and will intensify as climate change warms the Earth's surface.
A new mathematical model out of the University of Michigan forecasts the maximum expected intensity of a spiraling storm based on the depth of the troposphere and the temperature and humidity in the storm's path. Current thermodynamic models make assumptions about the energy feeding the storm system and the full measure of friction slowing it down, rather than including actual quantities.
The new model predicts that for every 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit the Earth's surface warms the intensity of storms could increase by at least a few percent. For an intense storm, that could translate into a 10 percent increase in destructive power.
Lead author, Nilton Renno, is also co-investigator on NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander mission, where his model calculates the intensity of dust storms in Mars' polar regions.
You think NASA would send their little pet up there without the best mathematical models? Yet the G8 still thinks it's okay to wait until 2050 to halve our emissions. May the troposphere around them be warm, slippery, and full of convective vortices.
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.