Climate change ‘supercharged’ US hurricane
Unusually hot waters across the Gulf of Mexico helped “supercharge” Hurricane Harvey before it caused widespread flooding across Texas in the second half of last year.
That is according to a study led by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), finding that the gulf’s waters were warmer than any other time on record.
This fuelled the hurricane with vast stores of moisture, which later resulted in record-level precipitation levels and the costliest tropical cyclone to hit the US – inflicting $125bn (£93bn) in damage.
"We show, for the first time, that the volume of rain over land corresponds to the amount of water evaporated from the unusually warm ocean,” NCAR senior scientist, Kevin Trenberth, said.
“As climate change continues to heat the oceans, we can expect more supercharged storms like Harvey – its clear that oceans play a critical role.”
The study appears in the Earth’s Future journal and was funded by the US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.
It comes after researchers at North Carolina State University forecast that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season will be significantly more active than the long-term average.
The university’s professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences, Lian Xie, said this year’s season should see 14 to 18 tropical storms and hurricanes forming in the Atlantic basin.
That is more than the average of 11 storms recorded annually since 1950, with Xie predicting one or two major hurricanes to form between 1 June and 30 November this year.
The forecasts are based on more than 100 years of historical data on Atlantic Ocean hurricane positions and intensity, as well as other variables including weather patterns and sea-surface temperatures.
Trenberth said supercharged hurricanes as a result of climate change were a clear threat, but that society is not adequately planning for the impact of these storms.
“I believe there is a need to increase resilience with better building codes, flood protection, and water management, and we need to prepare for contingencies, including planning evacuation routes and how to deal with power cuts,” he added.
Image credit: iStock
Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM