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An unprecedented study shows how much less severe Hurricane Florence would look without climate change

Published by Business Insider on Fri, 14 Sep 2018


An unprecedented report from scientists studying Hurricane Florenceshows how climate change is making the storm stronger.According to the results, warmer water and more humid, hot air increased the storm's precipitation forecast totals by more than 50%.The estimations are preliminary, but scientists say they'll analyze actual rainfall totals once the storm passes."Dangerous climate change is here and now," the researchers said.Hurricane Florence is arriving. Forecasts predict the storm will lash the Carolinas for days, battering homes, inundating businesses, and sending waves of water 11 feet high into the shore.The storm is also predicted to bring record rainfall totals to the region. In some places,40 inches of water are expected to fall.Although scientific evidence shows storms are stronger and wetter because of climate change, no one has ever really been able to pin down how much human-caused warming contributes to these damaging forcasts ahead of a storm's arrival.But for the first time, a group of academic research scientists has calculated roughly how much of Hurricane Florence's predicted rainfall is our fault. The team estimates that forecasted rain totals are more than 50% higher than they might have been if humans hadn't warmed up the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels."Dangerous climate change is here now,"Michael Wehner,a senior staff scientistat the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory told Business Insider, shortly after the new study was released. (Wehner's opinions are his own, and not those of the federal government, he said.)Wehner worked alongside a team of researchers from Stony Brook University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research to come up with the results. They relied on an academic forecasting model used around the worldcalled CAM.Theirreportdetails how the forecast for Florence might have looked if there were no people burning coal, gas, or oilno cars, no trucks, no smoke stacks. These activities have raised the planet's average temperature by roughly 2 extra degrees Fahrenheitsince the 1880s.Imagine, Wehner said, "the ocean's a little cooler, the air's a little cooler, and the humidity is a little bit less."If that were the case, according to Wehner's analysis, Florence would be much less wet.Warmer air can hold more water vapor, so hotterstorms can become strongerand produce more rain. Humidity helps too, because the water content of warmer air can be higher.Warmer ocean waters also fuels more aggressive storms bypumping more heat and evaporating seawaterup into a hurricane.We're already seeing this play out.Peak rain rates, which arrive when the fierce core of a storm is overhead, haveincreased 30% over the past 60 years all across the US, according to Andreas Prein, a project scientist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.Researchers (including Wehner) have also studied how Hurricane Harvey was impacted by warmth, and discovered that climate change made that storm at least 18% wetter. But the data from Florence is even more striking."It's surprising in the sense that its an awfully big percentage," Kevin Reed, a senior author of the paper and an assistant professor at Stony Brook University, told Business Insider. Reed plans to calculate more results based on actual rainfall totals after the storm passes. But he said it shouldn't come as a shock that our warming planet is causing storms to get wetter and more damaging."The impacts of climate changeare very real,and they're occurring already," he said. "We have to start to reallyface the challenge, if we're going to be able to do something about it."SEE ALSO:Hurricane Florence could dump up to 40 inches of rain on parts of the Carolinas ' here's why the deluge may be so intenseJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: Why water disappears from shorelines during a hurricane
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