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Atlantic Hurricanes Are Strengthening Faster, Partially Because of Climate Change, Study Finds
Published: February 8, 2019
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin are exploding into monster storms at a rapid pace more and more often, and climate change is one reason why, a new study has found.
Published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications, the findings compiled by a team of hurricane experts – several of whom work for NOAA – concluded that rapid intensification is happening more often than it should.
The result can be a hurricane that grows from a relatively tame Category 1 to a massive Category 4 or 5 storm, the most recent example being Hurricane Michael, which ravaged the Florida Panhandle last October (the Gulf of Mexico is included as part of the Atlantic Basin).
"There’s just a whole host of issues that come along with rapid intensification, and none of them are good," Jim Kossin, a NOAA hurricane expert and co-author of the study, told the Washington Post.
When climate change is introduced into the study, the findings make sense. From 1982 to 2009 – the period studied by the researchers – incidents of rapid intensification increased at a rate much faster than in models that omitted climate change. This suggests the warming oceans, increasing in temperature faster than normal because of carbon dioxide emissions, are playing a big role in this increase.
Kossin told the Post that "limitations in the satellite data set" meant they could only study storms through the 2009 season, and since oceans have warmed even more over the last 10 hurricane seasons, it's likely that the findings would have been even more dire if they could analyze those years.
"Troublingly, intensification rates don’t increase linearly as the intensity of a storm increases – they increase by the square power of the intensity," wrote Weather Underground's Dr. Jeff Masters in a piece published after Michael's landfall. "Thus, we can expect future hurricanes to intensify at unprecedented rates, and the ones that happen to perform their rapid intensification just before landfall will be extremely dangerous."
If the last few seasons are any indication – hurricanes Harvey (2017), Irma (2017), Maria (2017), Florence (2018) and Michael (2018) exploded in strength in 24-hour spans – billion-dollar disasters will rapidly become hundred-billion-dollar disasters overnight with a lot more frequency in the future, and the warming globe will continue to play a big role.
"This is a case where science seems to be following common sense," Benjamin Strauss, Climate Central's chief executive and chief scientist, told the Post. "We’ve had so many badly destructive hurricanes strike the U.S. over the last 15 years that it’s hard not to feel something is amiss."
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