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Are Hurricanes on the Increase?

By now, virtually everyone has offered an explanation or lament for the hurricanes that have devastated our southern gulf coast.

So what are we to make of it all? Before I offer you my uninspired opinion, I have to confess that my last name has proven a bit too literal for my own good. I was scheduled to preach in New Orleans in early July when Hurricane Dennis was making its way through the Gulf. Although damage was largely restricted to Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, there was a moment when it looked like New Orleans could be hit. So I was forced to cancel my flight and preaching engagement.

I was scheduled to speak at a weekend conference at the same church in New Orleans on September 24-25th. Needless to say, I once again had to cancel the trip. Although the church building is still standing, the congregation is scattered all across the land. Finally, I was speaking at the First Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas, when Rita came barreling toward the Texas coast. The last night of the conference was canceled as they rushed me to Houston to catch a stand-by flight to Dallas and then home to Kansas City. I was scheduled to fly out on Thursday morning but God graciously opened a way for me to get out of town Wednesday night. From what I saw on the news on Thursday, I may well have been stuck in the George Bush International Airport in Houston when Rita hit, had I not escaped the night before.

All this to say that I feel I’m being stalked! Storms have either preceded or followed Storms wherever he goes. I’m happy to report that my trip to Birmingham, Alabama, this past week was attended with wonderful weather! Now, on to what’s really important.

I must preface these comments, once again, by saying that I have no idea if we are nearing the end of the age. Neither will I comment on whether or not the Bible teaches that so-called “natural disasters” like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and the like will significantly increase as we approach the return of our Lord (no, that’s not what Matthew 24:7 is saying). O.K., maybe one comment. It does appear to me as I read the book of Revelation that the divine judgments we know as the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls appear to intensify in both magnitude and frequency as the Second Coming draws nigh. But enough of that. You can read my commentary on those texts elsewhere on the website (go to Eschatology in the Theological Studies section).

The purpose of this brief article is simply to report on the findings of the National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, as found in U.S.A. Today’s edition of Monday, September 26, 2005. The statistics are instructive, to say the least.

According to the article, “while it may seem that there have been many hurricanes this year, there were many more in the 1930s and 1940s” (2D). As you know, hurricanes are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with categories 3, 4, and 5 regarded as “Major”, with the potential for massive, wide scale destruction.

In the decade spanning 1911-1920 there were 21 total hurricanes and 7 that were major. In the decade spanning 1931-1940 there were 19 total and 8 major. In the years 1941-1950, 24 hurricanes hit the U.S. mainland, 10 of which were category 3-5! I was born in 1951. See, I told you I was being stalked!

Here’s where it gets interesting. In the previous decade, 1991-2000 there were only 14 hurricanes, 5 of which were major. So far in this decade, 2001-2005, we’ve seen 12 hurricanes, 5 of which were major. Granted, there are still five years remaining for that number to climb and perhaps surpass the number of hurricanes in other decades of the twentieth century. But if the current trend holds true, it is unlikely we will experience anything significantly beyond (or even equivalent to) what was seen in the 1940s.

All of that could change, of course. There could be a massive increase in the next five years and the decade following to indicate that something altogether unprecedented is upon us. Of what significance that would be, I’m not sure. I’ll leave that for others to decide.

Some of you may want me to comment on whether or not the recent spate of deadly storms are manifestations of divine judgment, as well as whether or not they are the result of global warming. I do have an opinion on the former (but won’t express it here), but confess total ignorance on the latter.

So, what then do I call the events of the past three months? Bad weather! That’s about as far as I’m willing to go. Blessings (and good weather) to all.