Now here's a real hurricane

When it rains, it pours.  And blows.  Hurricane season is in full swing: first Harvey, now Irma.  Jose is lurking in the Caribbean.  Others are incubating off the western coast of Africa.

Hurricanes are nothing new, including massive storms like Irma bearing down on Florida.  Here is a list of super-storms dating back to the time of Columbus.  This is long before gas-guzzling cars, air conditioners, carbon footprints, and Trump supporters.

Hurricanes are part of weather, impossible to accurately predict, as there are too many variables with interactions we don't fully understand.  Weather is part of our climate system.  Climate can't be predicted with any accuracy.  As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change notes, "[t]he climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible."

What if we looked beyond Planet Earth for some guidance on hurricanes?  Let's not look in some faraway Star Wars galaxy, but closer to home on Jupiter.  Jupiter is a mysterious planet covered in clouds, and far larger than Earth – so big that 1,300 Earths could fit inside.  One of the defining characteristics of Jupiter is its Great Red Spot.

It's believed to be a massive hurricane, two to three times larger than Planet Earth, with wind speeds making Irma look like a summer breeze – over 400 miles per hour.  It's not transient like our hurricanes.  This storm was first recorded in 1831, but it may have been discovered as far back as 1665.

It certainly looks like one of our hurricanes, as this photo demonstrates.

What caused it, and why has it persisted for centuries, unlike our hurricanes, which last a few weeks, then dissipate?  Theories abound.  It could be jet streams and vortices, swirling winds both horizontally and vertically.  These are features on both Earth and Jupiter.  So why do our hurricanes disappear, while Jupiter's big storm lasts for hundreds of years, perhaps much longer?

Scientists have their models, but that's all they are.  They're, educated guesses, like how scientists explain Earth's climate.  "The scientists caution that their model does not entirely explain the Great Red Spot's long lifespan."

Certainly, Jupiter has a different atmosphere and make-up compared to Earth, but both planets obey the same laws of physics – laws that govern gravity, wind, chemical interactions, and the like.

Another question is why the storm is red.  Scientists say, "Jupiter's upper atmosphere has clouds consisting of ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide, and water."  How these chemicals react and what effect sunlight has remains a mystery.  They also point out, "We're talking about something that only makes up a really tiny portion of the atmosphere."

What makes up a "really tiny portion" of the Earth's atmosphere and is believed to be a major culprit in global warming?  Carbon dioxide, or CO2.  This means only 0.04 percent of our atmosphere, four parts out of ten thousand.  It's the same CO2 that feeds plants, greens the planet, and provides food.  Similar to the "tiny portion" chemicals in Jupiter's atmosphere, how much does CO2 influence our climate?  Is it a cause or an effect?  Not settled science.

What's the point of all this?  That there is much we don't understand about hurricanes, whether on Earth or on Jupiter.  Scientists understand the basics but can't accurately predict their behavior.  Hurricane Irma's predicted course changes by the hour.  Will it head up the east or west side of Florida?  Or right up the middle?  What will its wind speed be when it hits the mainland?  How big will the storm surge be?  How much flooding?

These are questions that can't be answered until just a few hours before it hits or not at all.  They're all based on computer models, meaning educated guesses, but still guesses.

If the recent hurricanes are due to global warming, why hasn't a major hurricane hit the U.S. since 2005?  If the hurricane is, according to actress turned climate scientist Jennifer Lawrence, due to Trump's election, why is there a much larger hurricane on Jupiter?  I'm sure, by her scientific reasoning, if "What Happened" was the election of Hillary Clinton, Hurricanes Irma and Harvey would not have happened.  Really?

The bottom line is that we live on a complex planet, in a similarly complex universe.  There is much we don't understand.  To claim we do is the ultimate in hubris and folly.  Blaming weather on an elected official is buffoonery.

Whatever natural phenomena we face, whether temperature or weather extremes, all it takes is a look beyond our skies to see that we live in a hostile universe that could easily extinguish our entire planet.  That's something we can't predict or prevent.

As hurricanes dominate the news cycle, it's worth keeping this all in perspective.  Let the media report what is actually happening, noting that the predictions are just that – and not making grand proclamations based on political beliefs or agendas.

Brian C. Joondeph, M.D., MPS, a Denver based physician and writer.  Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.