What’s the hurricane-climate change connection?

As hurricane season kicks off along the Atlantic coast (June 1 to November 30), it’s a good time to think about the connection between hurricanes and climate change.

As the climate warms, hurricanes are projected to get stronger and wetter. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the IPCC modeling, we are likely to experience an increase in hurricane storm intensity, with a doubling of category 4 and 5 hurricanes over the course of the 21st century, while at the same time a decrease in frequency of category 1 to 3 storms. It is projected that storm intensity will increase 2 percent – 11 percent and there will substantially higher rainfall rates than present-day hurricanes—perhaps 10 percent-15 percent more rainfall within 100 km of the storm center. Overall, it is projected that hurricane damages will increase by 30 percent by 2100, without even taking into account future sea level rise.

However, sea level rise from climate change introduces another destructive variable into the mix. As the sea rises from higher temperatures, each storm pushes flood waters higher than it would have without sea level rise. For example, insurance giant Lloyds of London estimated that about 30 percent of the New York City area losses from Hurricane Sandy were attributable to just the historical observed sea level rise. Put another way, the damages from Hurricane Sandy in New York City would have been 30 percent less in the absence of sea level rise.

Clearly, the stakes are high for the Atlantic coast when it comes to the impacts of climate change. As we prepare for yet another hurricane season with basic emergency preparedness, we should also press for meaningful action on climate change to minimize future catastrophe. When the next big hurricane strikes, let’s not have to wish we would have acted on climate change sooner.

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