The question of whether Hurricane Irma was caused by climate change is circulating across both mainstream and social media in the wake of the storm.
However, this is the wrong question. Extreme weather including storms like Irma and Harvey have always happened, the real question is ‘How is climate change making them worse?’.
Most of us know that climate change is increasing sea temperatures and therefore sea levels. What people may not know is that this is the perfect recipe for a tropical storm to form and is making the effects even more devastating.
There are very specific requirements for a hurricane to form. 50m sea depth and a water surface temperature of 26 degrees Celsius are two of these and with the increases caused by global warming these requisites are becoming more easy to reach.
The effects of the storms on land are increased by these rises. It means heavier rainfall where the storm hits and increased flooding in coastal areas.
This is especially worrying when it comes to islands, such as the Caribbean ones hit by Irma, who are not as equipped to deal with such heavy rainfall and flooding.
The rising heat caused by global warming gives more power to the tropical storm, allowing it to get bigger whilst still forming on the ocean and keep going further inland.
“Perhaps Harvey was happenstance, and Irma could be coincidence, but Jose following close behind has to be climate change in action”, Phillip Williamson, climate change expert at the NERC, UEA.
We may, in the future, see storms like this not just hitting coastlines but gaining enough power to devastate inland areas who may not be prepared for such events.
Extreme weather does not just mean tropical storms, in fact, scientists have warned that all events, including droughts and heat waves, will get worse with global warming.
Get ready for floods in winter and a lot worse than a hosepipe ban in summer.