OPINION: Super-hurricanes are another dramatic consequence of climate change


Keith Rudd

It’s back-to-school season and along with first day pictures, Facebook feeds across the southeast were filled with something else: the weather. Over the last week, we’ve watched as Hurricane Dorian made its way up the East Coast after making its initial landfall in the Bahamas on Sept. 1. 

For the last several years, it’s felt like we always get hit with at least one major hurricane as we settle into a new school year. This year, it was Dorian. Last year it was Florence. Irma the year before that. 

It wasn’t always like this. There have been 32 Category 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic since the first recorded one in 1924. Of those 32 hurricanes to reach Category 5, 13 have occurred since 2000

Hurricanes pick up pace and power as they form, with the warm air from tropical waters near the equator fueling the storm. As warm air rises from the ocean’s surface, cold air comes in to replace it. That cold air warms and rises, and the cycle continues as clouds condense to form the shape now synonymous with the hurricanes we see each fall on The Weather Channel. 

Because these storms rely on the warm water of the tropics, it’s no surprise that one of the chief contributors to the uptick in major hurricanes is climate change. From the Environmental Protection Agency to the National Weather Service, to NASA: rising temperatures across the globe increase the ocean temperatures, making it ideal for a hurricane to form. 

The severity of hurricanes is not just impacted by the rising global temperatures, but also decreases in particulate sulfates, which act as the ocean’s sunscreen. More sunlight reaches the ocean, warming up small pockets of water. Humans warm the planet too, as increases in particulate pollution from our cars, houses and factories thicken the ozone layer, warming the oceans as the sun’s warmth can’t escape.

It’s really easy to sit at our computer reading articles about houses being destroyed in The Bahamas or parts of Puerto Rico living  without power for months on end, but we need to realize some of our responsibility in this. Hurricanes are going to happen, but maybe if we turned our lights off when we leave the room, or walked to class next time it was sunny instead of driving, it would have even a small impact. It may not prevent the next Category 5 hurricane, but it’s a start.