Is Climate Change Affecting the Severity of Storms?
By Maria DeKoning
Over the past few years, we have experienced a drastic increase in the number of devastating storms, poor air quality advisories, and wildfires. The evidence has been apparent for years to scientists, but it is just now becoming obvious to many others- the climate is changing. There is no use denying it.
Last night (Wednesday 9/1) into early Thursday morning, New York City, Westchester counties, areas of Long Island and New Jersey experienced severe flooding and heavy damages to homes, businesses, and subways. These impacts were the effects of Hurricane Ida. A storm hit that land last Sunday in southern U.S. states as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 150mph. The hurricane was reported as the fifth-largest hurricane in U.S. history and left Louisiana with a lack of clean water, flooded neighborhoods, and severely damaged homes.
The storm headed north Wednesday night into Thursday morning flooding NYC, leaving at least 24 dead. Areas such as Central Park and the subway systems were inundated with fast-moving floods, wiping the power from at least 84,000 individuals.
Is the Severity of Storms Increasing?
Over the past 30 years, the number of named storms, hurricanes, and severe hurricanes have increased significantly. The number of named storms increased by 10 ( a 44% increase), hurricanes by 6 (a 20% increase, and severe hurricanes by 2 (a 60% increase). Research done in a climate study has equated these increases to the following possible factors.
- Increase in Air Pollution regulations since the Clean Air Act in 1970, causing decreased air pollution over the North Atlantic, allowing for more sunlight to reach the surface of the ocean and making it warmer.
- Decrease amounts of major volcanic eruptions since Mexico’s El Chichón in 1982 and Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, neglecting the release of substances that reflect sunlight away from the Earth causing a cooling effect on the oceans.
- Improved technology detecting smaller, short-lived named storms in the Atlantic.
- Human-caused climate change creates greenhouse gasses that warm the planet and its oceans- making storm formations more likely,
Graph: Number of named storms in the Atlantic.
What About Climate Change?
Strong bodies of scientific evidence have been provided by scientists and the IPCC AR6 that humans have caused the Earth’s climate to warm since the late 1800s by 0.8-1.3 degrees Celsius. But, is anthropogenic global warming leading to the increase in Atlantic hurricane activity?
The NOAA has reached the following conclusions on how hurricane effects are subject to change from the effects of climate change.
In this century, sea levels are predicted to rise between one and four feet. The rise in sea level will create an amplified effect on storm surges. These storm surges will cause more damage to coastal lands along the Atlantic and create higher intensity storms. The higher sea levels will create more damages from coastal flooding. For example, in 2012 created $65 billion worth of damages in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Warmer Sea Surface Temperatures
Higher sea level temperatures will intensify wind speed, creating more damage when storms hit land. The NOAA predicts that the number of Category four and five hurricanes will increase in the upcoming years, creating wind speeds that are 10% stronger.
Poleward Shift in Hurricane direction
A poleward shift is causing an expansion of the tropics due to higher average global temperatures. The patterns of tropical storms are changing and shifting northward. With the shift north, more properties and human lives on the northern Atlantic coast will be in danger.
Unfortunately for this season, our fight with flooding roads and severe weather isn't over yet. According to the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) hurricane season in New York runs from June 1st to November 30th and between the months of August and October, 84% of storms occur. During this time, it is important to stay aware of your hurricane evacuation zone when preparing for an upcoming storm.
OEM released updated evacuation maps for NYC’s six evacuation zones. Anticipating an upcoming storm, city officials may require evacuation depending on the strength, track and storm surge. Both Nassau and Suffolk Counties also have sites aiding residents during severe weather.
The NOAA encourages anyone living in coastal zones to download the FEMA mobile app and visit Ready.gov or Listo.gov for updates on severe weather.