Jenni Gritters

Jan 8th 2018

Are There More Superstorms in Our Future?


In September 2017, we saw more superstorm hurricanes hit North America than usual, including hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and Maria. This is the only time in history — except for 2007 — that multiple Category 5 hurricanes have hit North America in the period of a year, let alone a month, said the The Atlantic.

Research shows that more superstorms — defined as large, destructive storms — will occur every few centuries in a stable climate. However, according According to the NCA and Science News, as Earth’s temperatures increase, the intensity and duration of these superstorms may get worse as a result.

As these storms hit harder and harder, many of us are left with big questions like: What is the outlook for weather patterns in the coming years? Can we expect more superstorms ahead? And how can we prepare for those superstorms?

The Research

The scientific jury is still out on whether or not increasing temperatures will increase the frequency of superstorms. However, according to Skeptical Science, scientists are certain that when these superstorms do occur, the effects of climate change will make the impact of these storms more pronounced.

“As the world warms, evaporation speeds up. So on avg there’s more water vapour for a storm to sweep up & dump now, compared to 70 years ago,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe tweeted in the wake of Harvey.

In a Nature article, several scientists explained that storm thermodynamics are strongly dependent on the climate. The world’s rising temperatures and sea levels have in turn changed the intensity, path and location of the storms we have experienced and will experience. Climate Central also notes that severe downpours are now more likely, leading to increased flooding. PreventionWeb’s 2016 Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report showed that financial damages from natural disasters are rising worldwide.

After Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Gary Lackmann, an atmospheric science professor at North Carolina State University, became interested in predicting future storms. He mapped the features of Sandy into the future and into the past, taking into account changing temperatures and humidity. In an American Meteorology Society paper titled “Hurricane Sandy before 1990 and after 2100,” Lackmann explained that by using mathematically simulated computer models, he could see that an 1880 version of Sandy was similar to 2012’s Sandy. However, due to changing temperatures and rising humidity, Lackmann found that a 2100 version of Sandy would be much, much worse. It would hit further inland with more intensity, causing more damages. Several other studies, including one from PNAS, have confirmed this finding about Sandy.

How to Prepare

John Holdren, Obama’s presidential adviser, famously said that when it comes to changing climates, we will end up with a future that holds a mix of prevention, adaption and suffering. It is up to us to determine the ratio of these pieces.

Through home preparation and awareness, we can prevent certain damages. When storms are about to hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends taking necessary precautions in your own home:

“Coastal and inland residents should ensure that their families have an emergency plan and emergency kits in their homes and cars,” FEMA experts recommend. “Some of the items in a basic emergency kit include: one gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation; at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food; battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio; flashlight and extra batteries; and First Aid kit.”

Through mitigation, we can attempt to limit greenhouse gases. The National Park Service recommends using renewable energy when possible and getting a home energy audit, if you’re a home owner. Spending less time on the road and using energy-saving light bulbs are easy ways to reduce carbon emissions, according to the National Park Service.

Finally, if we cannot mitigate or prevent damages, we can adjust to climate change. Some scientists have built tools that allow them to predict future superstorms, while other people are moving away from high-flood areas. As history has shown, human beings are designed for adaption.