Climate change giving extra fuel to storms during hurricane season

Reporter: Nash Rhodes Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

The Weather Authority’s meteorologists explain how climate change is already impacting our severe weather.

The last eight years were the hottest on record. While heat is often the first thing that comes to mind with climate change (or, popularly, “global warming”), that same heat is also causing our oceans to rise as water expands and Earth’s ice begins to melt. It’s a process called sea level rise, and it will play a direct role in tropical forecasting for years to come.

“We’re trying to communicate to not just be dismissive of a tropical storm or hurricane as having a minor impact, because you can still have storm surge that floods homes and businesses,” said Jon Rizzo, the warnings coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Key West.

Rizz warns that just as you should never judge a book by its cover, the same rule should be applied to the tropics. Sea level rise is slowly increasing the impacts of even the weakest tropical storms and hurricanes.

“The biggest message is that little things sometimes mean a lot now. Tropical storms which were dismissed as windy days and rough water, open water, well, now they can have a storm surge, too; the water might be a foot or two higher… than it was a decade or two ago.”

With weaker storms having a higher potential to punch above their weight class, it’s important to remember that no two storms will ever share the same impacts. Those impacts can be far outstanding from the center of any hurricane or tropical storm that forms.

Every storm is unique and poses its own circumstances, as we found out with Ian. This knowledge can be the difference in making informed or biased decisions in the face of a hurricane or tropical storm.

The similarities between current and historic storms are never considered in the forecasting process. Rather, a storm’s size, speed, symmetry and more are all carefully factored into the warnings and forecasts you receive.

“I like to say it’s like, as we say, with snowflakes… no two snowflakes are ever alike,” Rizzo said. “The same with tropical cyclones—no two are exactly alike. But they have the potential for much more damage than a snowflake.”

As rising sea levels continue to increase the potential impacts of storms, keep that snowflake analogy in mind during this hurricane season.

WINK wants to make sure you are prepared for the storm. Our hurricane special, “Preparing after Ian,” is re-airing Sunday night at 7 p.m. on CW.

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