In 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in the panhandle as the third most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to hit the United States. It was a category five storm that is blamed for 74 deaths. Michael is part of a troubling trend of record strength and rapid intensification and its cause is part of an ever-growing climate crisis.
“We do have a fair amount of confidence now in concluding that the strongest storms will get stronger and we’re seeing that play out,” said Dr. Michael Mann.
Dr. Mann is one of the nation’s leading climate scientists and a professor at Penn State University. The Yale-educated geophysicist is especially concerned about the global threat.
“We have seen the most intense hurricane ever in the northern hemisphere, in the southern hemisphere, in the Pacific, in the open Atlantic,” said Dr. Mann. “We’ve seen these record intensity hurricanes over the last few years at the very same time that global surface temperatures, global sea surface temperatures have been at all-time highs and there’s a direct connection. If you warm the ocean’s surface, there’s more energy to intensify these storms.”
Oceans absorb 90 percent of the heat in the atmosphere. As global temperatures rise from record amounts of carbon in the air, our seas, which is 71 percent of the surface of the plane, continue to heat at record levels and give fuel to developing storms.
“We can think of a hurricane as an engine,” said Dr. Mann. “It’s expanding energy. It’s doing work in the form of those winds at the surface that we’re familiar with. As we increase that temperature contrast by warming the surface, that engine becomes more efficient. It can do more work.”
And more work is ominous not just for South Florida, but all global coastal lands.
“If you increase those winds by seven percent, which is what we estimate happens with each degree Celsius of warming, you get a more than 20% increase in the destructive potential of that storm. And that’s not a small signal. We can see that happening,” said Dr. Mann.
Dr. Kerry Emanuel of MIT is another leading climatologist, who studies hurricanes. He agrees and put it into more stark terms to NBC6’s John Morales in 2018. He believes we may need to change the scale to include a category six.