Scientists Say Climate Change Will Bring More Storms Like Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian was the strongest hurricane to hit the Bahamas since records began in 1851.
Hurricane Dorian was the strongest hurricane to hit the Bahamas since records began in 1851. NOAA GOES East Satellite
Miami dodged a bullet last week. Hurricane Dorian, just a wobble off South Florida's coast, was one of the strongest and longest-lasting Atlantic hurricanes on record.

Florida has always had hurricanes, but climate change will make them bigger, stronger, slower, and deadlier. Tom Knutson, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says the evidence that a warming world is producing stronger hurricanes is greater than the evidence against it. Last week, in a webinar hosted by Climate Central, Knutson reviewed recent scientific research about how hurricanes are changing  Evidence suggests a warmer climate will not necessarily result in more hurricanes, but it will increase the likelihood that these storms transform into extreme weather events such as Dorian.

"The frequency is not changing, but the intensity is," Knutson says. "The number of storms may not increase, but those that reach Category 4 or 5 hurricanes will."

Hurricane Dorian, for example, was a record-breaking storm. It was the strongest hurricane to hit the Bahamas since records began in 1851, and it's tied with the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane as the storm with the highest wind speeds at landfall. It was a named storm for more than two weeks — one of the longest-lasting storms on record. It was also an incredibly slow-moving storm, infamous for stalling. And it brought devastating waves of storm surge — a consequence that will only climb alongside sea-level rise.

"Hurricane Dorian sat over the Bahamas for 48 hours and then went all the way north to Canada," says Nancy Metayer, climate justice program manager for the nonprofit New Florida Majority. "This was a monster storm."

New Florida Majority is part of the coalition of Miami organizations behind the Community Emergency Operations Center (CEOC). When Dorian's devastation of the Bahamas became clear, CEOC organizations quickly pivoted to relief. They ultimately sent 27 shipping pallets of emergency supplies to the Bahamas over the weekend.

"The people most affected are going to be the most vulnerable," Metayer says. "It's the families that can't afford to leave, who don't have the resources to prepare, and have to fend for themselves."

Metayer and her colleagues plan to participate in the international Climate Strike Friday, September 20, to demand elected officials act against climate change.

"We need to be prepared for when the next storm arrives," Metayer says.
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Jess Nelson is the 2019 writing fellow for Miami New Times. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and is excited to be living close to the water again after moving to Miami from New York. She studied history at UC Berkeley and investigative journalism at Columbia University.
Contact: Jess Nelson