Hurricane Dorian Slows to A Crawl, With Storm Surge Expected In Several States

Photo: Ramon Espinosa, AP

Hurricane Dorian blasted the Bahamas over the weekend as you all undoubtedly know, with a few deaths already confirmed. The storm is moving extremely slowly along the coast and thus will impact much of the Southeast U.S. coast this week, hundreds of thousands of people evacuated and five states expecting to see storm surge damage. The question is how much damage will it do and exactly where?  Unfortunately, forecasting the storm track and the storm surge heights are still a relatively imprecise science, and climate change is changing what we thought we knew. What we can say with certainty, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, is that based on new research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

  • hurricanes are more intense (more category 5 storms) now that they have been in the past because they gather strength from warmer ocean waters;
  • hurricanes are more damaging because they are wetter with more rainfall also caused by the warming of oceans; and
  • the high winds are not the only threat — it is now storm surge as well, which is because of sea-level rise.

Why This Matters:  We need to increase our preparedness in order to keep up with worsening hurricanes and severe storms — category five storms are no longer unusual freaks of nature. There have been five Category 5 storms in the last 3 years (Matthew, Irma, Maria, Michael and now Dorian).  That means we need to increase the study of hurricanes and severe storms, more data and more modeling to try to get more precise in our forecasts.  This week, in order to ensure public safety from these increased hurricane risks, we have had a large area of mandatory evacuations, and many businesses negatively impacted.  We also need increased capacity to deal with the impacts — FEMA and the Coast Guard and other first-responding capacities must be expanded.  We know this from our recent category five storms – but the Trump Administration is in denial about climate change.

Warm Ocean Water Increases Destructive Force

What the Future Holds

  • The number of hurricanes is not expected to rise but scientists believe that, “on average, tropical cyclones and hurricanes will have higher wind speeds and higher precipitation rates.”
  • “There is some evidence that there will be an increase in the frequency of the most intense storms, though there is more evidence of this finding for the eastern North Pacific than there is for the western North Pacific and Atlantic.”
  • Scientists also predict that there will be a “doubling or more in the frequency of category 4 and 5 storms by the end of the century—with the western North Atlantic experiencing the largest increase.”
  • In addition, “sea level is likely to rise by one to four feet globally by the end of the century, enabling the powerful surge associated with hurricanes to penetrate further inland than today.”

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