After decimating parts of the Caribbean, Hurricane Ida reached Louisiana on August 29th, exactly 16 years after the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. By that point, Ida had evolved into a Category 4 hurricane, so the devastation it left in its wake was immense.
After ripping through Louisiana, Ida then made its way north. As it moved, it caused other types of severe weather, including tornadoes and flash floods in places as far apart as Alabama and New York City. As of September 2nd, Ida has caused between $50-60 billion in damages and taken the lives of 66 people.
While storms like Ida and Katrina may seem like isolated events, severe hurricanes and weather patterns are quickly becoming the norm. The reason why? Climate change.
How hurricanes form
Hurricanes begin as tropical waves—low-pressure areas that travel over warm regions, like the tropics. As they travel, they begin to suck up the warm ocean air. This creates an area of low pressure under the storm, which leads to more outside air getting sucked in. This air cools and rises, leading to more thunderstorms and clouds. As that water condenses, it forms droplets, giving the storm even more power.
For a storm to be classified as a hurricane, it needs to have wind speeds of 74 mph or higher. Hurricane Ida had sustained wind speeds of 150 mph.
Adding fuel to the fire
One of the most dangerous aspects of hurricanes like Ida is how quickly they evolve from tropical depressions into deadly storms. Experts call this rapid intensification.
Ida began in the southern Caribbean as a mild, Category 1 storm. However, once it passed over Cuba, it reached an area of warm water that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. This supercharged it, and in less than 24 hours, Ida evolved into a Category 4 hurricane.
Many of the deadliest storms in the past several years have been the result of rapid intensification. This level of unpredictability is one of the reasons why storms like Ida are so menacing.
A dangerous future
In the future, climate experts don’t expect to see more hurricanes. What they do foresee is powerful and severe weather patterns becoming more common.
While cooler water temperatures helped restrain hurricanes and other storms in the past, temperatures are increasing—both at the surface and deep beneath it. Modern hurricanes now have access to more warm water than ever before, which they use as fuel.
As water temperatures continue to increase, experts expect Category 3, 4, and 5 storms (the deadliest ones) to become more frequent. They’ll also move slower, which means regions will get prolonged exposure to intense wind and rain.
Where we go from here
One of the most frustrating parts of climate change is that many of the people causing it (corporations and governments, among others) will make it through just fine. However, for people in poorer nations and those in the path of weather patterns like hurricanes, their entire lives can be put in jeopardy.
The only way to stay safe against disasters like supercharged hurricanes is through collective action. The world needs leaders that protect and listen to the people. By coming together and demanding better, we can limit the harmful effects of climate change before they get too out of hand.