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The new normal: Hurricane Michael reminds us that climate change is real

Hurricane Michael has officially made landfall in the Florida pandhandle with sustained winds at 155 miles per hour. That’s equivalent to an EF-3 tornado that sticks around for hours! While the story with Hurricane Florence earlier this year was the amount of water dumped – water that still hasn’t completely left the area – the story with Michael is the wind and how quickly it developed. The Florida panhandle has never been hit by a category 4 hurricane like Michael in recorded history. Unlike Florence, which we saw coming almost a week ahead of time, Michael seemingly camemic out of nowhere. And we have climate change to thank for that. Typically, ocean water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico peaks in September, however the water is unusually warm for October. And as the Verge points out, rising ocean levels also factor into the equation.
Storms like this are undoubtedly pushing more water into the coast because sea levels are higher. So when we have these types of storms and storm surge, the storm will be pushing a higher level of water than it would 50 or 70 years ago. That is something that Iā€™m very comfortable saying, but I think only the studies over time will play out whether the warmer oceans ā€” because of our broader, background climate change ā€” are fueling more higher-octane storms.
It’s also worth noting that the barometric pressure of Hurricane Michael is the third lowest of any storm to make landfall anywhere in the United States (the barometric pressure is the measure of how strong a storm is – the lower the pressure, the stronger). And to add insult to injury, Michael will still be a category 2 storm as it makes its way over southern Georgia and into the same area still feeling the effects of Hurricane Florence. And yet again, we’re reminded of the new normal.

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Last year was the costliest hurricane season in US history. Between hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria, the 2017 season caused over $250 billion in damages. And it was one of the deadliest seasons too, resulting in well over 3300 deaths, with approximately 3000 of that resulting from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico alone. And this isn’t just an anecdotal account or a reaction to the increased news coverage of hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released a study that found evidence of this. According to the NOAA study:
A review of existing studies, including the ones cited above, lead us to conclude that: it is likely that greenhouse warming will cause hurricanes in the coming century to be more intense globally and have higher rainfall rates than present-day hurricanes. … the hurricane model also projects that the lifetime maximum intensity of Atlantic hurricanes will increase by about 5% during the 21st century in general agreement with previous studies.
The NOAA study also said:
We also conclude that it is likely that climate warming will cause Atlantic hurricanes in the coming century have higher rainfall rates than present-day hurricanes, and medium confidence that they will be more intense (higher peak winds and lower central pressures) on average. In our view, it is uncertain how the annual number of Atlantic tropical storms will change over the 21st century. … Based on our published results and as well as those of other modeling groups, we conclude that at the global scale: a future increase in tropical cyclone precipitation rates is likely; an increase in tropical cyclone intensity is likely; an increase in very intense (category 4 and 5) tropical cyclones is more likely than not; and there is medium confidence in a decrease in the frequency of weaker tropical cyclones. Existing studies suggest a tropical cyclone windspeed increase of about 1-10% and a tropical cyclone precipitation rate increase of about 10-15% for a moderate (2 degree Celsius) global warming scenario.
More storms, stronger storms, leading to more rain, more destruction, and more deaths. And with an administration who denies the very existence of climate change, and refuses to accept the results of multiple scientific studies regarding the devastation of hurricanes, things appear to be going from bad to worse. Portions of this article were previously published.

Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.

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