Climate Change and Its Effects on Hurricanes

Penny Rabatsky, Contributing Writer

On August 19, first-year students moved into their dorms during a tropical depression. Hurricane Henri’s journey to the Northeast hit New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. This was the first hurricane to make contact  in Rhode Island since Hurricane Bob in 1991.

Thousands of people across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island lost power due to fallen tree branches and flooding. Two days later, New York issued a state of emergency because of high velocity  winds and flooding. Henri’s winds ranged between 50 and 75 miles per hour by the time it was a tropical depression.

While the southern states avoided Hurricane Henri, they were (not so luckily) hit by Hurricane Ida not too long after. Ida arrived two days after the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a dark day of commemoration which foreshadowed what was to come. CNBC reported from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that Ida is “one of the strongest storms to hit the region since Hurricane Katrina.” Ida had winds up to 150 mph (about 241 km), making it a Category 4 storm. While its winds decreased by approximately 90 mph (about 145 km), an immense amount of damage was done. 

On Sunday, August 29, President Joe Biden then “approved a major disaster declaration for Louisiana, unlocking federal funding for recovery efforts” as stated by CNBC. Biden later approved a disaster declaration for New York and New Jersey as well. Over 1 million people lost power in Louisiana, including the entire city of New Orleans.

As Ida made its way north, it hurt New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. There have been nearly 50 deaths; several of those being New Yorkers who lived in basement apartments that flooded. The Washington Post reported Mayor Bill de Blasio (NY) saying, “Things that we were told are once-in-a-century are now happening regularly. But bluntly, they’re also getting worse. It is an entirely different reality.” The destruction Ida caused in the Northeast resulted in New York and New Jersey implementing plans for future tropical cyclones as they are becoming more frequent and more damaging. 

This all begs the question: what is the cause? Is it climate change? 

Studies have proven that global warming has changed storms. Tropical cyclones begin because of “a small atmospheric disturbance located in or near a tropical ocean” (Yale Climate Connections) where the water temperature is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm water and wind convened to form a  tropical storm, and in more severe cases, a hurricane (if winds reach 74 mph).

While studies have not officially proven that there have been more hurricanes in recent years, they have concluded that their intensity has increased – there are more category 4 and 5 storms. These storms have faster winds and cause more damage. Category 5 storms include Katrina and Ida among others.

The rise in stronger tropical cyclones has, coincidentally, led to a change in the amount of rainfall. Now, with the change in climate, more moisture can be held in the air which causes more rain, and ultimately flooding. This explains why there was  60 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017. When examining the effects hurricanes have in each region, it’s important to take into account that different land absorbs water at different rates. One problem is that different terrain absorbs water differently. For instance, settings with more plant life have an easier time absorbing the rain into the ground, unlike cities that are made of concrete and metal which experience much higher flooding on average. 

Oceans are  getting warmer as a result of global warming. This is beneficial for hurricanes’ survival as they lose steam traveling north. Usually, the waters are not warm enough to give the storm more strength as the storm journeys northward, causing its decline and eventual death. However, with the warmer ocean waters closer to the north pole, hurricanes can survive for longer and cause damage to northern states and possibly Canada at some point as well. Just a few years ago, Hurricane Lorenzo, originally a category five hurricane, hit Ireland as a category one storm and “traveled farther east and north in the Atlantic Ocean than any previous storm of the same strength” according to NASA Earth Observatory.

Yale Climate Connections reports, “[four researchers] calculated that a present-day 1-in-100-year flood will occur once every three to 20 years, and a 500-year flood will happen once every 25-240 years by 2100.” This means that rare storms are happening more frequently.

Along with the physical damage, there is the monetary cost to consider as well. The Congressional Budget Office reports, “Expected annual economic losses from most types of damage caused by hurricane winds and storm-related flooding total $54 billion.” These now not-so-rare storms are stronger, more intense, costing more lives, and costing more money every year. Tropical cyclones are reaching places that they usually would not be able to, and there are no signs of this ending with the way things are currently going.

Related links:

Tropical Storm Henri: More than 4,000 without power across Massachusetts as gusts top 50 mph –

Here’s what made the New York City flooding so devastating (

Ida now a tropical storm as more than 1 million Louisiana utility customers are left without power (

Climate Change Indicators: Tropical Cyclone Activity | US EPA

Hurricane Ida’s death toll in Northeast reaches at least 49 – The Washington Post

How climate change is making hurricanes more dangerous » Yale Climate Connections

Expected Costs of Damage From Hurricane Winds and Storm-Related Flooding | Congressional Budget Office (