Climate change caused Hurricane Ian to dump 10% more rain on Florida than it would have otherwise, a rapid analysis using well-established methodology has found. The atmosphere can hold 7% more water for every extra degree celsius (1.8°F) it warms. That, plus water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico 0.8°C (1.4°F) above normal combined to push up total rainfall by 10%. Ponce Inlet got 31.5 inches.
Though a few additional inches may not sound devastating, Kevin Reed, an atmospheric scientist at Stony Brook University who co-authored the analysis as well as a study establishing its methodology earlier this year, told the AP, it can be the difference between overtopping a levee, or coming across a home’s threshold, or inundating water treatment facilities and releasing raw sewage (or phosphogypsum pollution) into nearby communities.
Though extreme rainfall was the only aspect of Hurricane Ian assessed in the analysis, it was far from the only characteristic that is consistent with how climate change is making hurricanes more destructive. On top of making major (Cat. 3 and higher) hurricanes more frequent — Ian made landfall with wind speeds just a few mph below Category 5 — the storm also rapidly intensified, exploding from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in just 72 hours, and brought with it storm surge so extreme it submerged palm trees. (AP, CNN; Rainfall totals: Washington Post $; Rapid Intensification: Washington Post $; Climate connections: New York Times $, NPR, The Economist $, NPR, Democracy Now, Washington Post $; Raw sewage: New York Times $; Climate Signals background: Hurricanes, Storm surge increase, Coastal flooding increase)