Last Year's Hurricane Season Was the Most Destructive on Record. This Year's Could Be Just as Bad.
Warming oceans are amplifying hurricane intensity.
Residents of Caribbean islands and the coastal United States — including those still recovering from last year's storms — may need to brace themselves for another intense hurricane season, as forecasts predict "above average" Atlantic storm activity in 2018.
Separate research studies from North Carolina State University, Colorado State University, and The Weather Company foresee anywhere from 13 to 18 named storms, six to 11 hurricanes, and two to five “major” hurricanes (meaning Category 3 or higher) this year.
Between 1950 and 2017, an average hurricane season saw 11 named storms and six hurricanes, according to the NC State report. But last year’s count was well above average with 17 named storms and 10 hurricanes. It was also the most destructive season on record, with three of the five costliest hurricanes wreaking havoc across the Caribbean and southern United States.
Hurricane Harvey drowned parts of Texas and Louisiana, costing an estimated $125 billion in damage. Maria’s devastation caused a near-total blackout in Puerto Rico, from which the island still hasn’t fully recovered. And Irma flooded tens of thousands of homes, most of which had no flood insurance.
It’s impossible to predict in advance how much damage this year's hurricanes and tropical storms might cause, since their intensity and path can change by the hour. However, as repeated catastrophes — such as Harvey, Maria, Katrina in 2005, and Sandy in 2012 — reveal a worrying lack of resilience in US infrastructure, experts encourage people in hurricane-prone areas to prepare for the worst.
“Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them,” read a disclaimer in the Colorado State report.
As hurricanes become more destructive each year, scientists are looking to climate change for explanations. While tropical storms and hurricanes start in the atmosphere, ocean temperatures can dictate their intensity, and rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change can make the storms more deadly.
According to research from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Atlantic hurricanes are intensifying much more rapidly than they did 30 years ago, thanks, in part, to warming oceans. A study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research also predicts that warmer oceanic and atmospheric temperature caused by climate change will produce even fiercer hurricanes in the future.
“As climate change continues to heat the oceans, we can expect more supercharged storms like Harvey,” Kevin Trenberth, lead author on the NCAR study, told the Guardian.
Trenberth also highlighted the need for greater preparedness and climate-friendly infrastructure projects, which can make Harvey-like storms less debilitating.
“We know this threat exists, and yet in many cases, society is not adequately planning for these storms,” he said.
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