How Local weather Change Fueled Hurricane Ida: NPR

Damage from Hurricane Ida on August 30, 2021 in Kenner, La. The storm was fueled by unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico. Scott Olson / Getty Images Hide caption

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

Damage from Hurricane Ida on August 30, 2021 in Kenner, La. The storm was fueled by unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Ida was a violent Category 4 storm when it came ashore in Louisiana on Sunday. With sustained winds of about 250 miles per hour, the hurricane tore roofs off buildings and shattered power poles. The storm was pushing a wall of water strong enough to sweep houses from foundations and tear boats and barges from their moorings.

Climate change helped Ida gain strength quickly just before it hit land. It jumped from a Category 1 storm to a Category 4 storm in about 24 hours as it moved over unusually hot water in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sea was the temperature of bathing water – about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. According to measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that’s a few degrees hotter than average.

The extra heat served as fuel for the storm. Heat is energy, and hurricanes with more energy have faster wind speeds and larger storm surges. As the earth warms, scientists are more likely to see rapidly intensifying major hurricanes like Ida happening.

The trend is particularly evident in storms in the Atlantic, which also include storms like Ida, which move across the warm, shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea. A 2019 study found that hurricanes that form in the Atlantic are more likely to get very strong very quickly.

The residents along the Gulf Coast of the USA have been living with this climatic reality for years. Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Michael in 2018, and Hurricane Laura in 2020 all intensified quickly before hitting land. Now Ida joins that list.

Hurricanes like Ida are especially dangerous because people have less time to prepare. If the strength of the storm becomes apparent, it may be too late to evacuate.

Abnormally hot water also increases the risk of flooding from hurricanes. Hurricanes soak up moisture as they form over the water and then release that moisture as rain. The hotter the water – and the hotter the air – the more water vapor is sucked in.

Areas remote from the coast are also at risk from flooding. Meteorologists warn residents of Ida’s northeastern route to the mid-Atlantic to prepare for dangerous amounts of rain. Parts of central Mississippi could get up to 30 centimeters of rain on Monday.

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