Hurricane Laura: A Climate Change Disaster

Image credit: NOAA Satellites

As if the stressors of COVID weren’t enough, residents in parts of Louisiana are dealing with significant damage to homes and workplaces, power losses, and lack of clean water, after category 4 Hurricane Laura ripped away power lines and destroyed water plants. All this while the state is experiencing some of its hottest days of the year. Add in the combination of heat, humidity, and rain, and the recovery is predicted to be slow, with spiking numbers of heat-related illness and heavy flooding. The hurricane has already left at least sixteen dead in the U.S., and killed over 20 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

And Hurricane Laura is only one of more than a dozen Atlantic storms, in what forecasters have called an “extremely active” 2020 season. In fact this hurricane season is setting records, with a possibility of more storms than the World Meteorological Organization even has names for. Plus the season hasn’t even reached its peak. This is likely just the start of the disasters to come.

These storms are a result of warmer waters in the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, which have continued to warm with record summer temperatures. With this increased heat, there’s more energy available for a hurricane to spin up, grow, and intensify. Additionally, since warmer air holds more moisture, the storm resulted in greater rainfall. With ocean and planet warming on an upward trend, we can only expect an increased number of intense hurricanes with greater flooding. Another clear, and disastrous, effect of climate change.

In addition to warmer waters, trapped greenhouse gases provide more energy for hurricanes to use, making them stronger. A warmer climate means storms that intensify more rapidly. Melting of Antarctic ice not only raises sea levels; it also makes hurricane storm surges higher. 

Climate change is leading not only to record droughts, flooding, fires, and heat waves, but also to stronger, deadlier hurricanes. We can’t keep allowing these “natural” disasters to happen without recognizing the underlying cause. If we don’t do something about climate change, more and worse disasters will come.