Hurricane Grace Could Be Supercharged by Climate Change

Satellite photo of Hurricane Grace

Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Yesterday afternoon, Tropical Storm Grace became Hurricane Grace and is projected to hit Mexico twice —first on the Yucatan Peninsula and then the country’s central coast. The storm has already passed through Haiti, which is still reeling from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. The compounding disasters are “further disrupting access to water, shelter, and other basic services,” UNICEF said in a statement Tuesday. The storm is now moving through very warm waters that could significantly strengthen the storm, with a 33% chance of it increasing to a Category 3 storm, packing 125 mph winds before making landfall Friday. 

Why This Matters: Warmer waters brought on by climate change are supercharging storms and allowing them to rapidly intensify. Larger, more enduring, and slower-moving hurricanes will cause increasing damage to communities that lie in their paths. Even without high wind speeds—which determines the hurricane’s category—storms that bring more rain and bigger storm surges can still cause severe flooding damage. Major storms can also create toxic spills, like the chemicals and sewage in Houston’s post-Harvey floodwaters or the spills in Louisiana after Hurricane Laura. 

Latest IPCC Report: Focus on Hurricanes: The recently released United Nations climate report contains hundreds of pages assessing the latest climate science and impacts. Hurricanes and cyclones are, like the rest of our planetary systems, impacted by rising global temperatures. Per Inside Climate News, the report expects future storms will be:

  • Wetter, windier, and more explosive: Warmer air can hold more moisture, and warmer sea-surface temperatures mean storms can intensify more quickly. 
  • Slower-moving and leaving a greater trail of damage: storms are expected to travel more slowly, cause more wind damage, and create a bigger storm surge.
  • More intense more frequently: Scientists are unsure if the total number of hurricanes will increase significantly, but the percentage of category 4 and 5 storms is expected to increase.

Further north: In the Pacific Ocean, warmer waters keep storms fueled further north than before, impacting locations not accustomed to tropical cyclones.

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