Posted on: October 2, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Lily Ligeska, Features Editor

While we at Moraine Valley were enjoying sunshine and winds an average 9 miles per hour last week, people in Florida were experiencing what President Joe Biden referred to as possibly “the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history,” with winds raging at more than 155 miles per hour.

Hurricane Ian has ravaged the Florida coast, striking St. Petersburg on Wednesday and causing Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a mandatory evacuation order. DeSantis then declared a state of emergency for all 24 counties, urging Floridians to take coverage and brace for impact. Entire communities have been swamped with water in what DeSantis is calling a “500-year flooding event.”

The tragedy, which has killed at least 80 people, leaves many south coast citizens in fear, but adding climate change into the equation leaves scientists in greater fear for the future.  

“This is a really nasty storm,” says Jennifer Sheppard, who teaches EAS 125-Weather and Climate Studies at Moraine Valley.

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A single hurricane needs four key components to develop: a pre-existing tropical disturbance, warm water, low wind shear, and some thunderstorms hanging out together.

“Hurricane Ian’s development was textbook in both timing and path,” Sheppard said. “[Hurricanes] are fueled by the evaporation of warm tropical waters and the latent heat released during intense convection.

“They survive on the feedback mechanism of dropping atmospheric pressure, which increases the wind speeds, which evaporates more water (fuel), which fosters faster convection and condensation…which releases more heat and drops pressure further.”

AccuWeather warns that hurricanes over the next 100 years will be far more extreme and even deadlier compared with Ian, as a direct result of climate change.  

“A warmer atmosphere holds more water,” Washington Post environmental reporter Brady Dennis says in an NPR interview. “A warmer atmosphere allows these storms that may have happened anyway to become supercharged in a sense.”

More than two-thirds of Americans say they have seen an increase in severe weather, according to the Pew Research Center.

Worldwide, 7,348 disasters were linked to natural hazards between 2000-2019—at least 3,000 more than the number for the previous 20 years, according to the United Nations. Disaster events have affected more than 4.2 billion people since the year 2000–up from 3.25 billion over the previous two decades.

Fort Myers, Florida, resident Dominic Cameratta filmed a shark swimming between homes in his neighborhood.

In Florida, 300,000 residents were mandated to evacuate their schools, jobs and homes. That’s the tip of the iceberg, though, as an estimated 15 million people will be affected by Hurricane Ian, says The New York Times. 

Ian is responsible for around $25 billion in property damage, reports CBS.  Flooding is expected to exceed 18 feet due to the tropical depression, and a Fort Myers resident reports seeing a shark swimming across from his house, recording the creature from his very backyard.  

As the storm gradually makes its way towards South Carolina, residents there are preparing for deadly surges and disastrous impact. Hurricanes are on the macro-scale of atmospheric phenomena. 

“The typical thunderstorm that we [in inland Illinois] might experience is on a significantly smaller scale,” Sheppard says. “These storms at best last a few hours…and travel less than 50 miles (most just a few miles). 

“Most thunderstorms do not have a rotational component in their structure, [so] most cannot produce the scariest of severe weather threats.”

In other words, the chaotic bipolar weather Chicagoans are so used to commenting about is nowhere near the extremities Floridians are dealing with.  

“The closest I came was a tropical storm, one that weakened into a tropical depression in 2020 during a family vacation to the Outer Banks, North Carolina,” Sheppard says. “We only experienced the farthest outer rain bands and even that was quite intense!”

While we may make predictions about how climate change may intensify severe weather, Sheppard reminds us that it’s only a scientific guess or hypothesis.

“It is unclear how a changing climate will impact the formation and paths of tropical weather systems,” Sheppard says. “Climate is a rear-view-mirror science. We can create forecast models using what we know about physics of motion, thermodynamics, atmospheric chemistry, and more to only generate probabilities.”

This Sept. 26, 2022, satellite image released by NASA shows Hurricane Ian growing stronger as it barreled toward Cuba. Ian was forecast to hit the western tip of Cuba as a major hurricane and then become an even stronger Category 4 with top winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) over warm Gulf of Mexico waters before striking Florida. (NASA Worldview/Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) via AP)