The sad truth behind N.C. gubernatorial candidate's claim of "hurricanes off the coast of Europe"

When the contentious issue of offshore oil drilling came up during last night's debate between the two leading candidates for North Carolina governor, Republican Pat McCrory made a claim that surprised me. It came in response to Democratic opponent Beverly Perdue's repeated description of North Carolina as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic," a nickname given to the treacherous waters off the state's Outer Banks:

Pat McCrory: What you keep calling the Graveyard of the Atlantic...

Moderator Pam Saulsby: Is that not correct?

McCrory: We have hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, we have hurricanes off the coast of Europe and Scotland where they're currently [drilling]. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to do it now.

Hurricanes off the coast of Europe and Scotland? Really?

As it turns out, McCrory's correct. There are severe cyclonic storms known as European windstorms that track across the North Atlantic during the winter months. While they usually hit the north coast of Scotland, such storms have veered south to affect the European mainland, sometimes with hurricane-force winds. Several European languages refer to them as "Orcans," which is derived from the name of the Mayan storm god Huracan -- also the source of the English word "hurricane."

Sadly, there is evidence that these European storms, along with Caribbean and North American hurricanes and Asian typhoons, may be intensifying due to climate change -- which in turn is exacerbated by the greenhouse gas emissions that result from burning oil and gas.

For example, a 2004 presentation (pdf) by the Munich Re Group, the world's largest reinsurance company, listed climate change as one of the factors behind the observed trend of increasing numbers of and economic losses from European windstorms. And a 2005 report (pdf) by the Association of British Insurers titled "Financial Risks of Climate Change" found that rising carbon dioxide emissions could boost average annual economic losses from U.S. hurricanes, Japanese typhoons and European windstorms by $27 billion a year -- a two-thirds increase -- by the 2080s.