Hurricane Season is Heating Up: Train of Storms is Symptomatic of a New Era of Stronger Storms

The Big Picture is that Global Warming is Allowing Hurricanes to Pack a Bigger Punch

09-03-2008 // Aileo Weinmann

Statement by Amanda Staudt, Ph.D. Climate Scientist, National Wildlife Federation On 2008 Hurricane Season, Global Warming and Restoring America's Wetlands

WASHINGTON, DC -- "As communities along the Gulf Coast begin to assess the damage from Hurricane Gustav and three more storms are traveling across the North Atlantic, our thoughts and prayers are with those in harm's way.

"While the past two years were relatively mild in terms of U.S. impacts, this hurricane season is a stark reminder of what science tells us to expect from a new era of stronger hurricanes fueled by global-warming: higher wind speeds, more precipitation, and bigger storm surge in the coming decades.

"The big picture is that global warming is allowing hurricanes to pack a bigger punch. Over this century, windspeeds could increase 13 percent and rainfall could increase 31 percent.

"Even storms that do not reach category 3 and above will hit harder because they will likely bring more rain than a similar storm would have just a few decades ago. It is a law of physics that warmer air is able to carry more water.

"Both Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Gustav brought costly flooding, with rainfall totals exceeding 10 inches in some locations. As the remnants of Gustav continue to bring heavy rains, much of the lower Mississippi valley remains under flood watch.

"Although no single weather event can be attributed to global warming, it's critical to understand that a warming climate is supplying the very conditions that fuel the strongest storms. The latest science paints an alarming picture about what global warming has in store for the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic Coasts: stronger hurricanes, heavier rainfall, and rising sea level.

"Many American coastal communities may face more intense storms as the oceans continue to warm in the decades ahead. Global warming must be factored into coastal and hurricane planning.

"We must restore the coastal wetlands, lowlands, and barrier islands that provide the first line of defense against hurricanes. For example, about half of the wetlands around New Orleans have been lost in recent years. Because scientists estimate that every mile of healthy wetlands can trim about 3-9 inches off a storm surge--and an acre of wetlands is estimated to reduce hurricane damage by $3,300-- we must restore these wetlands.

National Wildlife Federation's recent report Increasing Vulnerability to Hurricanes: Global Warming's Wake-Up Call for the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic Coasts details how:

  • Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger As Oceans Warm;
  • More Stormy Weather Lies Ahead;
  • Increasing Coastal Population and Development Puts People in Harm's Way;
  • Hurricanes Affect Wildlife;
  • Wetlands Are The First Line of Defense Against Hurricanes; and
  • To Reduce Risks and Prepare for Future Hurricanes

"We must account for increasing storm activity and rising sea level when managing our coasts, especially by restoring and protecting coastal wetlands, lowlands, and barrier islands that provide crucial natural levees. To prevent the worst impacts of climate change and limit the impacts on communities and wildlife, we must reduce global warming pollution."

National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.

Contact: Aileo Weinmann, communications manager, 202-797-6801, weinmanna@nwf.org

Related Resources
  • Supporting Document
    Increasing Vulnerability to Hurricanes(pdf)

    We must take global warming into account as we prepare for future hurricanes and manage our coasts, from carefully siting new construction or reconstruction to account for rising sea level and increasing flood risks to revising building codes to account for greater wind speed.

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