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NASA Scientist Says Climate Change Means More Intense Hurricanes

Climate change could impact the strength of hurricanes in the Atlantic. That’s according to Senior NASA Scientist Timothy Hall, who spoke Wednesday during a webinar hosted by ReThink Energy Florida, an environmental advocacy group.

Hall says warming ocean waters may not increase the frequency of hurricanes, but the number of intense hurricanes like 2017’s Irma and Harvey could go up.

“We used to say in this business about a decade ago when people asked, ‘does climate change and the warming climate, did it have some role in some particular intense event?’ And we used to say, ‘well you can never attribute any particular event to warming, you have to look at long term trends.’ Now, we just say ‘Yes!’ Because, we now have the tools to really be hard-nosed and estimate the fraction of this extreme event that is due to climate change.”

Hall and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say 2018 is shaping up to be an average to above-average hurricane season. But Hall adds even average hurricane seasons can bring devastating weather to coastal regions.

And the Tampa Bay area could be squarely in a storm's sites. Hall referenced a study from a Boston-based catastrophe modeling firm.

"Karen Clark and Company estimated that the hundred-year surge flood in Tampa - that's the flood that has one percent probability per year of happening - was about 10 feet, and that the damage would be around $175 billion," he said. "Maybe that damage is not surprising, since about 50 percent of the population of Tampa lives below 10 feet."

And that's without rising sea levels. Hall said you could add another 10 feet on top of that surge if levels continue to rise.

Credit Timothy Hall / NASA
Flood map of Tampa Bay

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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