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Long before Hurricane Ida hit southern Louisiana on Sunday, climatologist David Keellings was already terrified.

As the storm passed over the western end of Cuba and moved across the Gulf of Mexico, Keellings, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, knew it would become fierce and unruly.

“I was like, ‘Uh oh, it’s going to go through really hot water,'” he said. “And he did.”

Once the storm began to push up the unusually warm waters of the Gulf – 86 degrees in places, even to depths over 100 feet – things quickly escalated. Over the next 24 hours, the hurricane underwent a process known as rapid intensification, going from a Category 1 storm to a Category 4 storm shortly before roaring over the coast.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is happening too quickly and too close to dry land,” Keellings said. “This is going to have major impacts.”

Keellings and other scientists are paying close attention to Ida’s rapid intensification. Although hurricanes are unique systems driven by a complex interplay of atmospheric and ocean dynamics, experts say Ida’s formation and behavior portends the most likely types of hurricanes due to climate change.

“We expect global warming to make this rapid intensification process much more likely,” said Gabriel Vecchi, professor of geosciences at Princeton University. “It is a concern for decades to come.”

Scientists are still trying to understand precisely why some hurricanes get stronger so quickly; compared to other extreme events, such as heat waves, drought or forest fires, it is much more difficult to determine the exact footprints of climate change on individual hurricanes. But what is becoming clear is that global warming is creating the ingredients for storms to become more intense, Vecchi said.

A study published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences analyzed satellite imagery from the past four decades and found that the likelihood of a hurricane turning into a Category 3 or greater storm increased by about 8 % per decade, as warming accelerated.

And besides making them stronger, climate change is making hurricanes wetter, allowing them to dump huge amounts of rain.

“The physical mechanism that makes hurricanes wetter in a warming climate is really simple,” Vecchi said. “A warmer atmosphere retains more moisture, which just means a storm can rain more.”

Scientists have estimated that for every degree Celsius increase in temperature, the atmosphere can contain 7% more evaporated moisture.

After making landfall at Port Fourchon, Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana with winds of over 170 mph and 15 inches of rain in places. Storm surges up to 7 feet were recorded along parts of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

Rising sea levels due to climate change increase the risk of storm surge flooding, which occurs when the wind pushes ocean water inland, causing abnormally high ocean levels students.

“All other things being equal, if the sea level is higher, storm surges will be more damaging,” Vecchi said. “The total height of the water will be a combination of all the tides present, as well as the rise in sea level.”

It’s not clear whether global warming makes hurricanes more frequent, but warmer sea surface temperatures increase the chances of storms becoming major hurricanes when they form, Keellings said.

“Storms don’t change in terms of the ingredients they need,” he said. “What we’re doing is giving them more of all of these things that they eat.”

It also means that when these types of storms make landfall, the results can be even more dire.

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey stalled over southeastern Texas, dumping up to 60 inches of rain over parts of Houston and surrounding areas. A study published later in the year in the journal Geophysical Review Letters found that Harvey’s precipitation was up to 38 percent higher than what would have been expected without global warming.

So far Ida has not inundated Louisiana as much rain as Harvey in Texas in 2017, but as Ida traverses the Tennessee Valley to the northeast in the next few days, the rain is l one of the biggest concerns, said the state of Texas. climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

“Even though the total precipitation does not come close to Harvey, places further inland generally get lower total precipitation, so they are less prepared for something like 15 inches of rain per day,” he said. -he declares.

Large swathes of the storm’s path, including parts of Tennessee, also experienced wet summers, meaning water levels are already higher than normal and soils are more saturated, which may increase the risk of flooding. Vecchi said the dangers of torrential rains should be a priority for communities along Ida’s Trail.

“It’s easy to focus on the center, but the impacts of a hurricane can extend for several miles,” he said. “As it moves through all of central Canada, through Mississippi and Tennessee and the northern parts of Alabama and Georgia, it’s the thing to watch out for.”

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