Climate change helped Ian gain strength: NPR


Hurricane Ian left debris in Punta Gorda, Florida after making landfall. Storms like Ian are more likely because of climate change.

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images


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Climate change helped Ian gain strength: NPR

Hurricane Ian left debris in Punta Gorda, Florida after making landfall. Storms like Ian are more likely because of climate change.

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

Hurricane Ian was just short of a Category 5 hurricane when it made landfall in Florida. The wind was strong enough to destroy homes, and storm surges and relentless rain flooded entire neighborhoods within hours.

Storms like Ian are more likely due to human-induced climate change.

Heat is the fuel that makes hurricanes big, powerful and rainy. As humans burn fossil fuels and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the amount of heat trapped on Earth is steadily increasing. The air is getting warmer and the ocean water is getting warmer. When a baby hurricane forms in the Atlantic, all that heat is available to help the storm grow.

That’s what happened to Ian. When the storm first formed, it was relatively weak. But since it was moving over very warm waters in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, it grew very quickly.

Climate change favors rapid intensification of hurricanes

Hurricane Ian went from a tropical storm to a hurricane in less than 24 hours, then increased in intensity again before making landfall. It went from a Category 3 storm with winds strong enough to damage roofs, to just under a Category 5 storm, with winds strong enough to remove roofs altogether.

This kind of rapid escalation A lot has happened recently, especially along the Gulf Coast of the United States. At least one hurricane making landfall has intensified rapidly every year since 2017. Last year, Hurricane Ida strengthened just before hitting Louisiana. It also happened to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, Hurricane Michael in 2018, and Hurricane Laura in 2020.

Research suggests that hurricanes that form in the Atlantic are more likely to become powerful very quickly. Warm water is partly to blame, although wind conditions also play an important role. Studying exactly how global warming affects storm intensification is one of the main goals of climatologists right now, given how dangerous it is when a hurricane gains strength just before making landfall.

Climate change makes catastrophic flooding from hurricanes more likely

A warmer planet also leads to more flooding from hurricanes and tropical storms. A warmer atmosphere can hold more humidity. When a storm gains strength and becomes very large, like Ian, it traps a gigantic amount of water vapor, which falls as rain – often hundreds or even thousands of miles from where the storm initially hits the ground.

Research has already shown that past storms, such as Hurricane Harvey, have dropped more rain due to climate change.

And the bigger the storm, the bigger the storm surge. Ian pushed a wall of water ashore in Florida. And rising sea levels mean ocean water is closer to buildings and roads than it used to be. Many cities in Florida experience ocean flooding even on sunny days.

Together, rising sea levels and powerful rainstorms like Ian conspire to cause catastrophic flooding across large areas of the United States when a hurricane hits land.




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