How climate change is creating more storms like Ian

Hurricane near Brighton Beach.
Hurricane near Brighton Beach. Photo credit Getty Images
By , Audacy

As thousands of Floridians flee their homes with Hurricane Ian ripping towards the state, scientists say that storms are rapidly intensifying and when looking for a reason, they are pointing to human-caused climate change.

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With bad storms becoming the new normal during hurricane season, scientists are concerned over the rapid intensification seen in hurricanes before they make landfall.

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The U.S. National Hurricane Center says that meteorologists define rapid intensification as an increase in the maximum sustained winds of a tropical cyclone by at least 35 mph in a 24-hour period.

Rapid intensification is not only a challenge to predict, but it also can be a significant issue if it happens before it hits land, Richard Knabb of the NOAA's Miami sector of the National Hurricane Center shared with CBS.

"Watches and warnings for the various hurricane hazards — winds, storm surge, and inland flooding — account for the possibility that a storm will be stronger than forecast," Knabb said.

In less than 36 hours, Ian went through two days worth of rapid intensification going from 45 mph to 115 mph early on Tuesday.

Hurricane Ian is expected to become a Category 5 storm, and Knabb shared that its rapid intensification has made a scary storm frightening.

"Rapid intensification happens when a tropical cyclone that already has some organization moves over very warm water and within an atmospheric environment of calm surrounding conditions and a moist, unstable air mass," Knabb said. "All of these factors were clearly in play before the rapid intensification of Ian, which is why rapid intensification was anticipated fairly far in advance. Not every storm that encounters these conditions strengthens, sometimes due to internal structural changes that are hard to anticipate, but Ian did."

Storms like Ian are becoming more common, and scientists are working to understand why. According to Knabb, climate change is a factor in hurricane intensification due to the warm ocean waters fueling stronger storms.

As sea-surface temperatures warm, they act as fuel for hurricanes, creating stronger storms that carry more danger.

"Hurricanes appear to be peaking in strength a bit higher than they used to, and they seem to be intensifying at a rapid rate a bit more frequently," Knabb said. "We do not appear to be seeing more tropical storms and hurricanes overall, but the proportion of storms that become majors and that peak a bit stronger appears to be what is increasing."

Knabb continued by saying that climate change is fueling hurricanes and slowing them down, increasing the duration of winds, storm surges, and rainfall.

Ian is one example of a dangerous slow storm that could sit over areas for up to days, increasing the amount of damage done.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images