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Climate Change Made Hurricanes More Intense During Record-Breaking 2020 Season, Study Says

Published 2 months ago
By Forbes

TOPLINE

Man-made climate change has caused hurricanes and tropical storms to drop more rain, according to an article published Tuesday by Nature Communications that analyzed data from the record-breaking 2020 North Atlantic hurricane season, when storms inflicted around $37 billion in damage across the United States.

KEY FACTS

During the 2020 hurricane season, man-made climate change caused three-hourly rainfall for the heaviest storms to increase by 10%, according to the article, which compared real-world data to simulations of weather patterns as they might occur without human impact.

Hurricanes during the 2020 season were impacted more strongly by climate change than other storms that either reached tropical storm strength or fell within the 99th percentile for rainfall, with three-hourly rainfall amounts for hurricanes increasing by 11%, according to the study, which was authored by researchers at Stony Brook University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pennsylvania State University.

Accumulated three-day rainfall amounts increased by 5% for the heaviest storms and by 8% for hurricanes, a change that researchers said will probably also occur for storms in ocean basins outside the North Atlantic.

Greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to a sea surface temperature rise of about 0.14 degrees per decade since 1901, creating warm, moist atmospheric conditions that researchers said have fueled increasingly frequent and intense hurricanes.

The Nature Communications article confirmed previous studies published in Nature and elsewhere indicating climate change could increase storm rainfall by between 2% and 20%.

KEY BACKGROUND

Precisely measuring the impact of warming seas on hurricanes and other storms is difficult due to the numerous overlapping climate and environmental factors that cause storms to form, according to the authors of the Nature Communications article. However, previous research has suggested a strong link between global warming and intense hurricanes. A 2021 study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found the probability of a hurricane reaching Category 3—with winds of at least 111 miles per hour—was increasing by about 8% per decade, driven mainly by climate change. As hurricanes and other storms have grown more intense and more frequent, they have also grown more deadly: In 2021, 114 people in the U.S. were killed by severe storms, up from an average of 45 per year for the prior 40 years, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“It isn’t this end-of-the-century problem that we have to figure out if we can mitigate or adapt to,” Stony Brook University weather researcher Kevin Reed, one of the authors of Tuesday’s study, told the New York Times. “It is impacting our weather and our extreme weather now.”

BIG NUMBER

$2.16 trillion. That’s about how much damage weather and climate disasters inflicted in the U.S. between 1980 and 2021, according to the Office for Coastal Management.

FORBES

“Yes, Global Warming Is Changing How Hurricanes Work” (Forbes)

By Zachary Snowdon Smith, Forbes Staff

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