As Hurricane Ian roared across Florida, we were reminded once again that climate change is helping make tropical storms and hurricanes worse.
While scientists and meteorologists collectively caution against blaming these intense storms on any one cause, they do agree that climate change is creating conditions which contribute to the rapid intensification, rainfall, and inland flooding of recent hurricanes.
“The acting National Hurricane Center director recently stated that ‘on the whole, on the cumulative, climate change may be making storms worse.’ That is supported by the overwhelmingly clear science on what climate change means for storms like Ian in general: heavier rainfall, possible slower movement which prolongs heavy rain and battering winds, and more inundation as sea levels rise,” the Hurricane Center’s public affairs officer Maria Torres wrote in an email for a recent TIME magazine article.
Scientists agree that the rapid intensification of hurricanes is becoming more frequent and is connected to the impacts of climate change. Higher average temperatures lead to warmer ocean waters which in turn causes more evaporation. As tropical storms like Tropical Storm Ian pass over very warm water, they absorb more moisture, leading to heavier rainfall. In the right calm conditions, warmer waters can also increase the storms’ wind speed, and can cause hurricanes to undergo rapid intensification more frequently.
Dr. Richard Knabb, director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, said in a CBS News article that Hurricane Ian packed two days’ worth of rapid intensification into less than 36 hours.
“Warming sea-surface temperatures are playing a role, since they provide fuel for hurricanes, which also rely on a moist and unstable atmosphere — all of which are becoming more conducive for strengthening hurricanes in our changing climate,” Knabb said. “Hurricanes appear to be peaking in strength a bit higher than they used to, and they seem to be intensifying at a rapid rate a bit more frequently. We do not appear to be seeing more tropical storms and hurricanes overall, but the proportion of storms that become majors and that peak a bit stronger appears to be what is increasing.”
Rising sea levels also increase flooding danger from storm surge, helping to push flooding further inland.
“In addition,” Knabb said, “sea level rise will only continue to increase the magnitude and inland extent of flooding already caused by storm surge, when saltwater is pushed onto normally dry ground from the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean.”
Apart from the damage caused by inland flooding, freshwater lagoons and reservoirs may become contaminated by the saltwater and may also damage water sanitation services resulting in waterborne infections. Standing water may also increase the presence of mosquitos and airborne diseases as well. More intense hurricanes and more frequent flooding are expected to drastically increase insurance costs to Florida residents.
We can all make a difference by helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and by encouraging our leaders, friends, and neighbors to make impactful change as well. Here are 5 Things You Can Do to Fight Climate Change.