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Hurricane Michael: A Sign of Global Climate Change?

Ellen Murphy November 8, 2018

Hurricane Michael was first monitored as a storm on October 2 in the southwest Caribbean Sea. It had developed into a hurricane by October 8 and hit land on October 10. Classified as a Category 4 storm; Hurricane Michael caused extreme damage with winds up to 156 mph.

Often storms forming in the warmer Caribbean Sea are “the ones that are really worrisome” according to National Weather Service forecaster Rodney Wynn.

Hurricane Michael was the strongest storm to hit the continental U.S. in the last 14 years. Many people were put in danger, with an evacuation call that spanned 22 counties.

Authorities in Florida say that there have been 54 deaths, including 29 people in Florida, 10 in neighbouring states, and 15 in Central America.

Devastation of prominent tourist hotspots along the Florida Panhandle and Mexican coastline have been widely covered in international news. It has been reported that Walt Disney Co. has pledged $1 million for relief efforts to support its 70,000-person workforce in the Orlando area.

What does this mean from an environmental perspective?

Hurricane Michael was record breaking for two reasons. One, it was the first Category 4 storm to ever make landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Second, there were two other named tropical storms in the Atlantic: Storm Leslie and Storm Nadine.

There have never been three simultaneous storms with winds greater or equal to 65 mph in the same area before. Hurricane Michael was the second major hurricane, the seventh hurricane, and the thirteenth named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season.

These figures are at the upper limit of what was forecasted by the National Weather Service for this season, which proposed between 4-7 hurricanes and 9-13 named storms. Statistics such as these have recently brought climate change into the spotlight.

Why is this happening?

Additional greenhouse gas emissions from industry and agriculture are heating the earth at an unsustainable rate. Our oceans are absorbing a lot of this heat, which produces stronger and more frequent storms.  

What are the experts saying?

New research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that seas have absorbed 60% more heat than previously thought.

The GFDL says that increasing sea surface temperatures predicted for the late 21st century “would imply very substantial increases in hurricane destructive potential” – roughly a 300% increase by 2100.

New research by AMS suggests that there could arguably be a Category 6 added to classify fast-intensifying storms in the future. Research shows that storms of super-extreme intensity, with maximum sustained winds above 190 mph are becoming more common.

What can we do?

It may seem that major climate change is impossible to tackle on a personal level, but this is not the case. There are many ways people from all walks of life can help out the planet!

David Suzuki has compiled a useful list of tips to combat global climate change in daily life, here are few of them:

  • Take public transit, ride a bike and fly less to reduce transportation emissions.
  • Change to energy-efficient light bulbs and unplug electrical appliances to use less energy.
  • Winterize your home (draft-proof curtains, wear layers inside, reverse ceiling fans). Heat the people, not the space!
  • Eat meat-free meals to reduce greenhouse emissions.
  • Vote for officials in elections that are geared towards protecting the environment.