Last year, which was predicted to be above average but not extreme, turned out to be one of the most disastrous Atlantic hurricane seasons on record. It saw 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes, making it the most active season since 1936. Totaling $306 billion in damages, it was also the costliest year for disasters ever recorded in the United States.
Those figures include the heavy toll of Hurricane Harvey, which at its peak last August left a third of Houston, Texas underwater, displaced a reported 39,000 residents, and caused $125 billion in damages. In the Caribbean, communities continue to work on recovering six months after they were hit by Hurricane Maria, a storm that left a third of Puerto Rico’s population without power is now considered the country’s worst disaster on record.
While it’s still unknown whether climate change will cause the number of hurricanes to increase in the long run, experts say it’s evident that warmer ocean temperatures and stronger winds—just a few effects of climate change—will certainly increase the severity of future hurricanes.
Scientists have recently demonstrated, for example, the direct link between heat stored in the ocean and the amount of rain a storm produces. Before Harvey swept across Gulf of Mexico last year, ocean temperatures had reached record highs. That enabled the storm to collect more moisture via evaporation and subsequently drop record amounts of rain.
Other studies suggest there will be an increase in intense hurricanes—which could have enormous implications for public safety and economies around the globe.