Hurricane Laura swung into the Gulf of Mexico last week as a modest Category 1 hurricane. By the time Laura slammed ashore in Louisiana, it had intensified to a Category 4, bordering on a 5. Laura made landfall as one of the strongest storms on record to hit the continental United States, more powerful by far than Katrina, which inundated New Orleans in 2005. Climate scientists say warmer ocean waters resulting from global temperature rise are helping produce the rising power of such storms.
Hurricane Laura’s rapid intensification, in particular, was a new sign of the multiplying impacts on our dangerously warming planet. Scientists say the atmospheric and oceanic conditions which contribute to a storm’s ability to grow stronger faster as it nears shore are a sign of rising global temperatures producing hotter sheltered water bodies like the Gulf.
This rapid increase in storm strength makes them even more dangerous, because residents see a modest storm approaching in the forecasts and are less prepared for the major storm which hits them. They’re less likely to have evacuated or made serious preparations. Local authorities are less likely to have triggered the highest warnings and evacuation orders in time. A similar rapid jump in storm severity is one factor which helped make Hurricane Maria so deadly to Puerto Rico in 2017. Climate scientists are specifically tying these suddenly changed conditions to the human acceleration of climate change.
And even while the winds, torrential rain, and storm surge of Laura lashed the southern states, wildfires spread by dry wind and high heat continued to burn California and other Western states. Climate impacts come in many forms, and their effects are becoming more obvious and harmful by the day.