Quantcast

Climate Change Is Already Making Hurricanes Wetter, Study Confirms

Climate
New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Getty Images

New research published in Nature Wednesday has confirmed that some of the most destructive hurricanes to pummel the U.S. in the past decade were made worse by climate change.

Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in Louisiana, Hurricane Irma, which devastated the Caribbean and southeastern U.S. last year, and Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 in Puerto Rico, were five to 10 percent wetter because of global warming, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found.


And it could get worse. Future projected warming would have made these devastating storms 15 to 35 percent wetter, according to a Berkeley Lab press release.

"This study adds exclamation points to the already clear message that we must slow global warming by conserving energy and switching from fossil to renewable fuels while preparing for more extreme weather to come," Rutgers University hurricane scientist Jennifer Francis, who was not involved with the research, told The Guardian.

Other studies have found the footprints of climate change on individual storms. Models projected Hurricane Florence would be 50 percent wetter due to climate change, and researchers also found that the chances of Hurricane Harvey's record water dump were made three times more likely by the warming atmosphere, but there is not yet a scientific consensus on the degree to which the changing climate has already impacted hurricanes, according to the paper's abstract.

"It is difficult to unravel how climate change may be influencing tropical cyclones using observations alone because records before the satellite-era are incomplete and natural variability in tropical cyclones is large," study author Christina Patricola said in the press release.

To try and determine that influence, Patricola and her colleague Michael Wehner ran 15 tropical cyclones from the past decade through a computer modeling different climates, from a pre-industrial climate to a worst-case scenario temperature increase of three to four degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures have already risen about one degree Celsius.

"For example, by modeling Hurricane Katrina in a pre-industrial climate and again under current conditions, and taking the difference between the results, researchers can determine what can be attributed to anthropogenic warming," the press release explained.

The researchers then considered how Katrina and the other storms would have been different if the climate was even hotter, using three different warming trajectories. While the percentage of increase varied from storm to storm, the results were remarkably consistent in terms of how the storms behaved.

"The fact that almost all of the 15 tropical cyclones responded in a similar way gives confidence in the results," Patricola said.

In addition to their findings related to rainfall, the researchers found that future warming would increase wind speed by up to 25 knots, while most storms studied would have seen wind speeds 10 to 15 knots higher.

The hurricanes modeled for this study showed no wind speed increase due to existing warming, and the study was not designed to answer the question of whether or not storms were becoming more frequent.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A verdant and productive urban garden in Havana. Susanne Bollinger / Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

Read More Show Less
Trevor Noah appears on set during a taping of "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" in New York on Nov. 26, 2018. The Daily Show With Trevor Noah / YouTube screenshot

By Lakshmi Magon

This year, three studies showed that humor is useful for engaging the public about climate change. The studies, published in The Journal of Science Communication, Comedy Studies and Science Communication, added to the growing wave of scientists, entertainers and politicians who agree.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
rhodesj / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cities around the country are considering following the lead of Berkeley, California, which became the first city to ban the installation of natural gas lines in new homes this summer.

Read More Show Less
Rebecca Burgess came up with the idea of a fibersheds project to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe. Nicolás Boullosa / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.

Read More Show Less
A television crew reports on Hurricane Dorian while waves crash against the Banana River sea wall. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

Some good news, for a change, about climate change: When hundreds of newsrooms focus their attention on the climate crisis, all at the same time, the public conversation about the problem gets better: more prominent, more informative, more urgent.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) met with Bill Gates on Nov. 7 to discuss climate change and ways to address the challenge. Senator Chris Coons

The U.S. Senate's bipartisan climate caucus started with just two members, a Republican from Indiana and a Democrat from Delaware. Now it's up to eight members after two Democrats, one Independent and three more Republicans joined the caucus last week, as The Hill reported.

Read More Show Less
EPA scientists survey aquatic life in Newport, Oregon. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to significantly limit the use of science in agency rulemaking around public health, the The New York Times reports.

Read More Show Less
A timelapse video shows synthetic material and baby fish collected from a plankton sample from a surface slick taken off Hawaii's coast. Honolulu Star-Advertiser / YouTube screenshot

A team of researchers led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration didn't intend to study plastic pollution when they towed a tiny mesh net through the waters off Hawaii's West Coast. Instead, they wanted to learn more about the habits of larval fish.

Read More Show Less