How Climate Change is Affecting Natural Disasters
Written by Teresa Prytko
There is more to climate change than just warmer temperatures. These warmer temperatures have a direct effect on weather, and can even increase the strength of natural disasters such as hurricanes and tropical storms. Recently there has been an increase in the formation of these storms, as well as their intensity which has had devastating effects on those impacted.
The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season, according to NOAA, had “a record-breaking 30 named storms and 11 landfalling storms in the continental United States.” Already the 2021 season is up to 14 named storms, 6 of those became hurricanes. With each storm that has come through, there has been devastating flooding down south in Louisiana and even all the way up along the east coast in New Jersey.
Most recently, Hurricane Nicholas, which was upgraded to a category one shortly before making landfall, hit the Texas Gulf Coast early Tuesday morning September 14, and similarly to other hurricanes this year, slowed down causing more rainfall to occur. The area was placed in a flash flood warning by the National Weather Service and because the area had already been put at risk from Hurricane Ida, that threat only increased. Nearly 100,000 homes and businesses were reported to have lost power in Louisiana, and it may be over a month until it returns. The Louisiana Department of Health also confirmed that 29 lives were lost as a result of Hurricane Ida and its lasting impact.
Changes to the climate affect storms and their strength because it affects how they form and are sustained. The rise in temperatures means more water can be evaporated into the air, and water vapor is the fuel for these storms. Warm air rises, leaving an area of lower air pressure below. Air from surrounding areas with high-pressure moves to this area of lower pressure and then is warmed itself. The cycle continues and the water in the air forms clouds. Eventually, a system of clouds and wind grows and spins. It gains energy from both the heat and the water that is being evaporated.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the 2020 annual global sea-surface temperature was the third-highest on record at .76℃ above the 20th-century average, only 2016 and 2019 were warmer. These warmer temperatures gave the perfect conditions for more storms to form, as well as allowing them to gain and maintain strength as they moved along.
Impacts can be felt not only along the Gulf Coast but also here in Massachusetts. According to the National Weather Service, Worcester received over 12 inches of rain in July alone. This broke the previous record of 11.41 inches that was set all the way back in 1938. You may have experienced flooding at your home, school, job, or on the roads while you were driving.
This increase in dangerous storms has been made evident, but whether it is directly caused by climate change is something that cannot be completely proven. It can be difficult to determine exactly what is causing an increase in these dangerous storms because there can be multiple factors, both man-made and natural. Nonetheless, these increasingly dangerous storms are not only costing lots of money due to the damage but also lives. If protecting the planet and reducing man-made causes could lessen the risk, then it is worth the effort.