What a Warming Climate Means for Hurricane Season

Hurricane season is here, and the increased impact of hurricanes is just one more example of the ways in which we are experiencing climate change. In just the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a myriad of storms that have dumped dangerous amounts of rain, leaving large numbers of people dead and unaccounted for and many areas destroyed. The most recent event was Hurricane Florence, which hit North and South Carolina last week and traveled up the East Coast as a tropical depression.

The impacts of Florence were and continue to be deadly. So far, 37 people have died due to fallen trees and flooding. Half a million homes and businesses are without power, and rainfall has surpassed record amounts.  As hurricanes become more severe and more frequent, scientists have been able to better predict just how much of a role climate change has played in the intensity of these storms. According to a study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the rainfall during Hurricane Harvey that hit Houston in 2017 was 38% percent stronger than it would have been if our planet wasn’t warming at the rate it is. One study estimated that there was up to 50% more rainfall during Hurricane Florence due to the warmer ocean and air temperatures.

Warm air has the potential to carry more water than cold air. For each degree Celsius that the air warms, it can hold up to 7% more water, which is why the winds that made up Florence were able to sustain so much more water than they would if the storm had occurred in years past.

Not only have studies shown that hurricanes are becoming “wetter” as atmospheric temperatures increase, but they are also slowing down. Slower moving storms mean more time for the wind and rainfall to do damage over each specific region.

When hurricanes hit land and water is released, rainfall can cause rivers to overflow and, in the case of Florence, elevation differences in the land lead to intense and deadly flash flooding. In urban areas, infrastructure like concrete and asphalt often limit the earth’s ability to absorb water, adding to the rate at which areas experience such flooding.

Melting ice masses in the poles add to rising sea levels and contribute to the damage caused by these storms, as we saw here in New York during Hurricane Sandy where a large portion of the damage was due to coastal flooding. A new study in the journal Nature shows that sea levels are predicted to rise approximately three feet in the next century, rapidly increasing the risk for millions of people globally who live in coastal areas.

Although some steps have been taken by states and cities to combat climate change, additional response efforts to these disasters are also helpful. Some states and municipalities, including New York State and City, have sent emergency responders to the affiliated areas in the Carolinas to help.

With many climate scientists and numerous recent studies suggesting these storms will only grow worse over the coming years, many homeowners are taking action now to protect themselves and their property from weather disasters’ harmful impacts. Boarding windows, altering garage doors, using waterproof insulation, and raising or securing the structure of a home to the ground are just a few among the numerous ways to retrofit homes in order to make them more resilient to future storms.

The effects of a warming climate are becoming increasingly present and more detrimental every day. NYLCV will continue to educate the public about climate change and advocate for policies that combat its effects as well as make our state and cities more resilient.