Oct 10, 2016

Being 'prepared for surprises' - climate change increases hurricane impact in unexpected ways

Martin Kuebler
Deutsche Welle
Photo: D.N. Chery, Associated Press
Photo: D.N. Chery, Associated Press

[W]e're very sure about the increased threat posed by storm surge, which often causes a big portion of the damage. Sea levels have already risen, and will continue to rise over the coming decades. And we know that the impact of storm surges will become worse, even with storms of the same intensity.

We've seen that now, with Hurricane Matthew, we saw it with Hurricane Sandy in New York [in 2012]. We also saw it, for instance, with Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines [in 2013], where 93 percent of people were killed by the storm surge.

It may not seem like much, a 1-foot rise in sea levels - but it leads to a much more damaging impact further inland. With Sandy, for example, subway stations were underwater which otherwise would not have flooded. This is a very predictable trend.


We know that storms only form in relatively warm waters, so if the warm waters extend further away from the equator, places that haven't experienced storms before might suddenly get them. And those might be the places where we don't have the early warning systems and we don't have the coastal infrastructure to deal with those effects. Based on the models, we don't know exactly what to expect - but we're certainly prepared for more surprises on that front.