Hurricanes and the Climate Crisis: What You Need to Know
Hurricane season is upon us — and this one could be a doozy.
After initially predicting a pretty typical Atlantic hurricane season, in terms of the number of expected named and major storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently revised its forecast, increasing the likelihood of an above-average hurricane season from 30 percent to 45 percent. This means residents of the Caribbean and those living along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coastlines shouldn't let their guard down — and forecasters warn, there appears to be an increased chance of more major hurricanes:
The overall number of predicted storms is also greater with NOAA now expecting 10-17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 5-9 will become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or greater), including 2-4 major hurricanes (winds of 111 mph or greater). This updated outlook is for the entire six-month hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.
There's little evidence to suggest that climate change actually creates more hurricanes. Indeed, NOAA itself explains that the revised forecast has more to do with diminished El Nino activity in the Pacific.
But there is abundant information indicating our changing climate is supercharging more and more of the ones that do form. And from Hurricanes Maria and Irma to Michael and Harvey, these storms are bringing almost unimaginable devastation much more frequently as a result.
Read on to discover how the climate crisis makes an already tough situation worse for millions of people all around the world.
Adding Fuel to the Fire
Carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas is warming our planet and driving climate change. It's throwing natural systems out of balance — to often devastating effect.
One result among many is that average global sea surface temperatures are rising — and when sea surface temperatures become warmer, hurricanes can become more powerful.
"For a long time, we've understood, based on pretty simple physics, that as you warm the ocean's surface, you're going to get more intense hurricanes. Whether you get more hurricanes or fewer hurricanes, the strongest storms will tend to become stronger," Dr. Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University and author of The Hockey Stick and The Climate Warsand The Madhouse Effect, explained to Climate Reality.
"Empirical studies show that there's a roughly 10-mile-per-hour increase in sustained peak winds in Cat 5-level storms for each degree Fahrenheit of warming."
Warmer oceans – especially deep ocean waters — can also allow storms to intensify quickly. So a once-relatively weak storm can cross the right stretch of (warm) water and become a major hurricane in a matter of hours.
With storms and forecasts changing fast, people can be under-prepared for the true intensity of the actual hurricane that makes landfall, potentially resulting in greater damage and even loss of life.
But looking at increases in sustained wind speed alone doesn't paint the full picture of a storm's destructive potential. A hurricane is more than just its winds — it's a major rainfall event accompanied by dangerous storm surge.
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More and More, Water is the Real Story
"Other influences being equal, warmer waters yield stronger hurricanes with heavier rainfall. The tropical Atlantic Ocean has warmed over the past century, at least partly due to human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases," according to NOAA. "Most models agree that climate change through the twenty-first century is likely to increase the average intensity and rainfall rates of hurricanes in the Atlantic and other basins."
The bottom line: warmer temperatures create a greater chance of more intense storms.
This makes a lot of sense when you consider two facts:
1. Warmer air holds more moisture.
2. Higher temperatures evaporate more water from the surface of our oceans.
Taken together, these factors mean there's more water vapor for hurricanes to suck up as they travel over the sea surface, and more capacity to hold on to it. So when they make landfall, all that extra moisture returns to the Earth's surface as heavy precipitation.
At the same time that hurricane winds are getting exponentially stronger and the rain they carry is becoming heavier, sea levels are rising too. With higher seas, the storm surges from hurricanes (think: abnormally large waves driven to shore by hurricane winds) get higher too and move further inland.
The result: More water falling from above and more coming in from the ocean, hitting the coast harder and harder from both directions.
In the case of the Category 4 Hurricane Harvey last year, "sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico that [were] 2.7 - 7.2°F (1.5 - 4°C) above average" helped power a storm that dumped more than 60 inches of rain over parts of southeastern Texas. The highest-reported storm surge from Harvey (in Port Lavaca, Texas) was 7 feet above the mean sea level.
After all was said and done, the resultant catastrophic flooding and other storm damage made Harvey the second-most costly hurricane in U.S. history, behind only Hurricane Katrina. Plus, 68 Texans lost their lives, the most direct deaths from a tropical cyclone in the state since 1919.
The National Hurricane Center called the storm "the most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event in US history."
Learn more: Climate Change and Health: Hurricanes
So, is climate change really making hurricanes more dangerous?
The simple answer is yes.
But it's not all bad news — because we can solve the climate crisis. And we will.
Learn how in Climate Reality's™ free e-book, Extreme Weather and the Climate Crisis: What You Need to Know.
In it we explain in plain language how burning fossil fuels is driving a climate crisis and making our weather more intense and dangerous. And it's not just hurricanes, either. Wildfires. Flooding and drought. Extreme heat. This crisis is creating many kinds of wild weather all over the globe.
We also share stories about how extreme weather is affecting people just like you, in their own words — as well as ways you can join the climate movement and make a difference today.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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