While climate change didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm to form in the open Atlantic Ocean, it did make them much stronger, scientists in the U.S., Germany and the U.K. have said this week.
“Unfortunately, the physicality is very clear: Hurricanes get their destructive energy from the warmth of the ocean, and the region’s water temperatures are super elevated,” said Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in an statement to Bloomberg News on Wednesday.
Irma comes less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey barreled ashore in Texas, knocking offline almost a quarter of U.S. oil refining capacity and causing widespread damage, power outages and flooding. Climate change can “badly exacerbate” the impact of the hurricanes, even if it’s not the initial cause, he said.
The link between climate change and hurricanes is straightforward enough: Hurricanes feed off warm water, and climate change will make the areas where hurricanes are formed hotter. Warmer air can hold more water vapor, making it easier for a storm like Harvey to dump more rain.
According to Chris Landsea, science and operations officer at the National Hurricane Center, they are expecting a 10 percent surge in rainfall by the end of the century due to climate change, which he predicts would only have only increased rainfall by an inch or two in the case of Hurricane Harvey but may be different for Irma.
Another key point that makes hurricanes dangerous is storm surge, the huge flood of seawater a storm pushes in front of it as it approaches land. Climate change causes rising sea levels, so it takes less storm surge to cause the same amount of flooding.
If sea level rise continues at the current pattern, Landsea expects every single hurricane to have a 2-foot higher storm surge by the end of the century.
How other hurricane factors are affected by climate is still unclear. Some scientists think Sandy’s unusual trek over the East Coast might have been influenced by climate change, but that’s exactly the sort of hypothesis that’s difficult to test with a rare phenomenon like massive hurricanes.
Another potential problem that is more caused by human overpopulation, which contributes to climate change, is how the layout of the land in the areas hit hardest by hurricanes has changed drastically over the last few decades. More businesses, homes and construction in general disrupts the topography of the land leading to drainage issues and overworked soil that does not soak up as much water.
What can one person do to slow and reverse climate change? It can be difficult to fathom, especially when progress to slow climate change seems to be under attack by members of our own government. But the truth is there are lifestyle changes that you can make too that, in some combination, can help reduce your carbon impact. Check out our top 10 points here and consider implementing them into your life to make a difference for the entire planet.