Greenhouse gas pollution intensifies Hurricane Ian’s rainfall by 10%


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Michelle Piong

Scientists have discovered that Hurricane Ian’s rainfall is 10% worse than it would have been two centuries ago due to greenhouse gas pollution. Two United States climate researchers, Michael Wehner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Kevin Reed of Stony Brook University, conducted a rapid analysis in which they used a “storyline” approach to reach their conclusion.

They first used a model to simulate the storm. Then they removed the effects of greenhouse gas pollution to simulate how the storm would behave had there not been climate change. By comparing the two simulations, they estimated that Hurricane Ian’s rainfall was 10% harder as a result of climate change.

Climate change also caused Hurricane Ian to become stronger. It quickly intensified after passing through the northwestern Caribbean Sea, whose surface temperature is about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1 degree Celsius, warmer. As a result, Ian has been renamed a Category 4 storm when it was previously a Category 3 storm.

These rising ocean temperatures could even allow Hurricane Ian to move farther inland than hurricanes did 60 years ago, according to a 2020 report by Nature.

High wind speeds have also exacerbated the hurricane’s effects. Ian has experienced several periods of “rapid intensification,” which means that the hurricane’s maximum sustained winds increased by at least 35 miles per hour within a 24-hour period. There has been an increase in North Atlantic hurricanes that undergo rapid intensification since the 1980s, which may be a result of climate change, according to a 2019 report by Nature Communications.

Although storms are not happening as frequently, they are becoming more catastrophic, experts say.

“In terms of impacts and climate change, yes, this season could be a harbinger of what is to come,” said University of Albany hurricane scientist Kristen Corbosiero. “But it’s really hard to say that climate change has an impact on any one storm in terms of its formation or its individual intensity.”

As global temperatures rise due to climate change, future hurricanes could unleash even stronger rainfall than Hurricane Ian. Sea levels will also rise, which we have seen causing exacerbated catastrophic effects. Global warming will most likely reach 2 degrees Celsius, which will devastate hurricane-prone regions, whether or not the nearly 200 countries involved in the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow succeed in reaching their climate change goals.

Marshall Shepherd, who is a climatologist and the former president of the American Meteorological Society, noted that even though there is a growing threat of tropical storms, people are not adapting to a future where this is a possibility. “In some ways these aren’t really natural disasters anymore,” Shepherd said.

Alleviating the aftermath of these tropical storms would include sea walls which are effective at protecting infrastructure from smaller storms, but they would need to exceed 300 feet in height if more intense hurricanes were to pass by.

Hurricanes and tropical cyclones will get stronger and deadlier regardless of how world leaders and the people respond to these natural disasters. Although the threat and solutions to these natural disasters are clear, how humanity will respond to imminent catastrophe is not.