Florence proves hurricanes are not a force to be taken lightly

A couple walks along the boardwalk as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Over the past 20 years or so, hurricanes have been becoming increasingly worse and more frequent. It seems like every year we are getting more storms with more violent and increasingly dangerous outcomes. The storm currently hitting the Carolinas, Hurricane Florence is no exception. With the huge hurricanes to hit Florida and Puerto Rico last year, and other massive storms that have hit in recent years like Hurricane Sandy, it has almost become expected that our world will be plagued by these massive storms. So what do we do? We take cover and rebuild every time one hits. But shouldn’t we be getting to the root of the problem and becoming more proactive to stop these hurricanes from forming in the first place?

While we obviously don’t have total control over whether a hurricane actually forms, we know that human influence on our planet is causing these storms to become more frequent and intense each year. For example, Hurricane Maria, which famously made landfall last year, went from being categorized as a tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane in only two days. This alarming jump in intensity is far faster than what we used to consider “normal” for hurricanes, and is explained by many scientists as a result of climate change on our weather patterns.

A team of scientists hailing from Stony Brook University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Center for Atmospheric Research illustrated how climate change has changed our weather by estimating what a storm of this magnitude would typically yield without climate change. According to their results, they estimated that, “Florence’s rainfall forecast is more than 50 percent higher than it would have been without global warming, and that the hurricane’s projected size is about 80 kilometers larger”. While these numbers may just be educated guesses, they are still alarmingly huge numbers from well-educated experts. To think that our country may be facing extreme destruction worsened by the effects of its own people is terrifying. If people are not currently convinced that our actions are affecting the environment around us, I don’t know what will change them.

While everyone already knows how dangerous Florence is, there are other factors that make this storm more dangerous and extreme than previous storms. Hurricane Florence is not following the typical path of a hurricane. Whereas most hurricanes typically move clockwise around the mid-Atlantic, Florence has shifted closer and closer toward the coast of the U.S. While this may not mean much to most people, to put it in context this same phenomenon is what caused Hurricane Sandy to take a path toward New Jersey rather than stay farther south as is typical. While this of course does not mean that Hurricane Florence is coming for the northeast, it puts into context how dangerous this type of phenomenon can be.

In light of all these recent superstorms, scientists have begun to predict what the weather forecast will look like into the middle of the century. Using a computer simulation system, researchers have been able to place Category 4 and 5 hurricanes on the map and see what they could potentially look like within the next 20 years. According to Kerry Emanuel, a scientist studying hurricanes and climate change at MIT, “there were more hurricanes in general and 11 percent more hurricanes of the Category 3, 4 and 5 classes; by the end of the century, there were 20 percent more of the worst storms”. This simulation software also found that storms of “super-extreme intensity” will also become more common as time goes on. Due to these results, experts are discussing the addition of a “Category 6” hurricane, which does not currently exist, to describe the superstorms that may be coming.

With all this doomsday talk, it is only fair to discuss what can be done to prevent our climate from escalating to this degree. Obviously, we need to make a change. We needed to make a change after Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Maria and all the other major storms that have been overlooked and forgotten. While our policies and the way we treat our planet may have remained stagnant, our environment has not. The downhill spiral of our environment is only beginning, and the rage of these storms is not going to be stopped easily.

Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.