Preliminary Studies Find That Climate Change Supercharged Hurricane Ian

Preliminary Studies Find That Climate Change Supercharged Hurricane Ian

Preliminary analyses show that Hurricane Ian, which ravaged the Gulf Coast, was strengthened by human-caused climate change. The study found that climate change added at least 10% more rain to the storm. While these results haven’t yet been peer reviewed, the study builds on another published earlier this year, which found that at their rainiest three-hour periods, 2020’s hurricanes were over 10% wetter than they would have been in a world without global warming.

"Climate change didn't cause the storm but it did cause it to be wetter," explained Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Michael Wehner, one of the scientists behind the study.

Climate change is also making storms grow faster. According to a recent analysis of hurricane data by the Associated Press, there were 25% more quick-growing storms in the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Pacific in the last decade than there were 40 years ago. On the Gulf Coast, a rapidly intensifying storm has made landfall every year since 2017.

Sky News: Hurricane Ian | Florida suffers a 500-year flood event, September 29, 2022.

Why This Matters

This data confirms what is already noticeable. Climate change is making extreme weather more common and more dangerous, and that is not all. Another recent study showed that climate change is fueling an increase in severe droughts that are followed by extreme flooding. A third study found that the volume of extreme rainfall in the 21st century could be double what previous researchers predicted. This would make extreme hurricane seasons in the Atlantic twice as likely.

This is affecting people all across the globe. Severe flooding puts 1.81 billion people -- almost a quarter of the world -- at risk

Hurricane Resilience in the Wake of Ian

Across Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina, Hurricane Ian has caused at least $65 to $100 billion worth of damages, and left thousands of people missing.

In Florida, Hurricane Ian caused even more damage by leaving hundreds of Florida hospitals without power and many without water. At least one hospital, HCA Florida Fawcett Hospital in Port Charlotte, flooded and saw its roof blown off. Sea level rise during this century will increase the risk of hospital flooding by 22%, putting hundreds of other facilities in jeopardy.

In Florida, Hurricane Ian’s damage was likely made worse by real estate development projects that destroyed natural flood barriers, like marshes and mangrove forests. It was made worse, too, by projects that put homes in dangerous areas. In cities across the country, developers are still taking advantage of population booms by putting homes in flood prone areas, making devastation more likely. That said, newer hurricane and climate-resilient building codes may have saved hundreds of lives and homes.

ABC News: Death Toll Rising in Florida after Hurricane Ian, October 3, 2022.

PBS News Hour: Florida residents take stock of damage as rescues continue after Ian, October 1, 2022.

CBS Mornings: Florida residents recovering from the damage left by Hurricane Ian, Oct 4, 2022.

Fortunately, policymakers are already taking climate resilience more seriously following the damage caused by Hurricane Ian. Retired special assistant to the president for climate policy David Hayes told the Washington Post: “Ian reminds us that we have underinvested in longer-term resilience… prior administrations and prior Congresses have not funded the longer-term issues.”

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper said he is committed to making his state more resilient in the face of future storms. North Carolina, he argued, has “a front-row seat to the effects of climate change.”

NBC: NC Governor Roy Cooper | 'We have avoided the worst of Hurricane Ian,' October 2, 2022.

PBS: Report shows devastating economic impact of rising sea levels along American coast, September 14, 2022.