After barrelling through the Abaco Islands and the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian now creeps towards the U.S.’ East Coast. The Category 5 storm, which the National Hurricane Center (NHC) describes as “catastrophic,” held sustained winds of 185mph with gusts of more than 220mph. In perspective, that’s triple the wind speed for scientists to classify it a hurricane.
Experts project that the dangerous storm will hit areas near the Florida coast either late Monday or early Tuesday. They also expect that the storm will strike the Carolinas and Georgia and has the potential to cause significant damage to them. Estimates show that Dorian may hit southeastern coastal regions of the U.S. with 6-12 inches of rainfall. For some areas, they may even see 18 inches of rain. In such cases, Dorian could lead to “life-threatening” flash floods.
Governor DeSantis comments on Dorian
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis emphasized the dangers of Hurricane Dorian’s 185mph sustained winds in a news conference on Sunday.
“That’s significantly stronger than Hurricane Andrew, which reached landfall at 165mph. It’s significantly stronger than Hurricane Michael, 160mph. South Florida has had one hurricane in our history—the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935—that reached that level, and that was total destruction,” DeSantis said. “The strength of this storm cannot be underestimated.”
Hurricane Dorian acts as the fourth named hurricane of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) updated its forecast for this year’s season to say there would be a 45% chance of above-average activity during the hurricane season.
Usually, roughly 6 hurricanes hit the Atlantic every season, three of which usually become major hurricanes. However, NOAA says the Atlantic could potentially be hit by as many as nine hurricanes this year. 2-4 are expected to qualify as Category 3 storms or higher, with strong winds of 110mph or above.
Global warming exacerbates storms and hurricanes
Although scientists cannot definitively say climate change caused Hurricane Dorian, global warming does exacerbate the effects of storms and hurricanes.
According to NOAA, the past five years have been the warmest on record. And it seems like this trend will continue unless significant measures are taken. With higher temperatures comes rising sea levels, which leads to more frequent, powerful flooding. When the air gets warmer, it also increases the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. That causes tropical storms to intensify and produce more precipitation.
Warming is also leading storms to be much slower than before. A 2018 study found that in the past seventy years, hurricanes and tropical storms moved around 10% more slowly on average. A slower speed actually makes the effects of storms much more lethal—it gives such storms more time to wreak devastation upon the areas it is hitting, leading to stronger winds and rain and, subsequently, flooding.
Hurricane Dorian is unprecedented for the Bahamas
Although residents of the Bahamas are no strangers to heavy storms, Hurricane Dorian hits the island with unprecedented risks. Due to the storm, meteorologists report an 18-23 feet increase in water levels. Some areas, they say, could face total flooding.
Director of International Affairs for Human Rights Bahamas, Louby Georges, told The New York Times residents, terrified by the powerful storm, packed the shelters. As a result, many people have resorted to churches in Marsh Harbour. However, since the churches aren’t on the official list of shelters, Georges says there are no trained professionals to help with any emergencies, and supplies may run out as the storm worsens.
“People are sending voice notes, people are crying,” he said. “You can hear people hollering in the background.”
As Hurricane Dorian looms on the horizon, so do fears of all the possible wreckage the powerful storm may leave behind. Although there is no clear evidence that the effects of climate change are directly responsible for the strengthening of devastating hurricanes and storms, they certainly amplify the ferocity behind such natural disasters.