Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria each broke records this year, which stunned even extreme weather scientists. Forty-five named storms have been recorded so far in 2017, with seven of them being hurricanes. Have storms been getting stronger, and is there a connection between these recent disasters and climate change?
To understand the connection between recent storms and climate change, defining climate change is important. By definition, climate change is a change in global or regional climate patterns. For example, rising sea levels increased Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, which displays a direct connection between climate change and storm damage. At the same observatory, NASA scientist William Lau concluded in a 2012 paper that the amount of rainfall from tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic has risen by twenty-four percent each decade since 1988.
However, measuring a storm by its maximum size, heaviest rains, or top winds does not capture the full scope of its power, according to NASA. Whether storms have been getting stronger or not is uncertain.
A recent poll from the Washington Post asked “Do you think the severity of recent hurricanes is most likely (the result of global climate change), or is it (just the kind of severe weather events that happen from time to time)?” Of those polled, fifty-five percent agreed that it is the result of climate change, forty-one percent believed it is a severe weather event that occurs from time to time, and the remaining had no opinion. The question of whether storms are getting stronger has no certain answer, but what is its connection to climate change? In a 2005 poll, taken a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, thirty-nine percent of Americans who participated said that they believed climate change helped to fuel the intensity and strength of the hurricane.
Today, fifty-five percent of Americans believed climate change helped to fuel the strength of hurricanes. The warming climate is contributing to more to intense weather events, storm surges, and floods, according to Emily Guskin and Brady Dennis’s Washington Post article.
With increasing data suggesting that extreme weather events like hurricanes are linked to climate change, many researchers have become confident that climate change is or is not affecting past or future storms.