Hurricanes: What is Their Future?
November 30th marked the official end to this year’s record breaking hurricane season. Hurricane Harvey dropped the most rainfall for any one particular storm in North America on Houston, Texas. Hurricane Irma was the strongest Atlantic hurricane recorded outside of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean since the National Hurricane Center (NHC) began keeping record. Hurricane Ophelia was the easternmost major hurricane ever recorded by the NHC. Not to mention that this was the costliest hurricane season on record.
What was so different about this season, and what does it mean for our future? Under our current practices, or what scientists refer to as "business as usual," mankind will continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This increases the global average temperature. As our climate changes, hurricanes and their behavior are also likely to change, and although all future hurricane seasons cannot be defined by this past season, this season serves as a cautionary tale of the new normal.
Hurricanes are dependent on their environment to form and strengthen, but one of the most important characteristics for hurricanes to thrive is warm ocean temperatures. With a warming climate, sea surface temperatures are also warming. This will allow stronger hurricanes to travel to regions that typically did not receive many hurricanes in the past. Hurricane Ophelia is a good example, impacting much of the British Isles and Northern Europe. Not only will hurricanes impact areas that formally did not experience many hurricanes, but they will also be more intense. Warmer temperatures allow for more moisture in the atmosphere, resulting in a higher amount of rainfall that comes with hurricanes.
What does this mean for humans? As hurricanes become more intense, so will the resulting damages. People in regions prone to hurricanes will have to build buildings with a higher resistance to wind and storm surge (water that is pushed inland from the hurricane’s high winds). Regions that typically do not have to worry about hurricanes will have to prepare for greater impacts. This may include barricading coastal regions from storm surge, reinforcing buildings, and installing levies. States will also have to divert more funds to repair damages from more intense storms. Most importantly, more individual citizens will have to either move or educate themselves on how to prepare for such storms, such as heeding evacuations, securing homes and property, and how to recover when the damage is done.
We have altered our climate through the burning of fossil fuels, and now we must be ready to face the consequences that come with our actions. The only way to avoid this is by reducing our carbon footprint and altering where we receive our energy.