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Hurricane Ian and Climate Change

Floridians are no strangers to hurricanes, with 79 cyclones hitting the state within the last 20 years; however, Hurricane Ian took many hurricane-veterans by surprise when it rapidly jumped from a category 3 to nearly a category 5 hurricane overnight this past week. Many residents found themselves unprepared or stranded for the fifth most powerful hurricane in US history due to the rapid transformation and devastating landfall of the storm. A major factor affecting the hurricane’s trajectory and impact was climate change, and now, as Floridians rebuild, Ian warrants a clear rationale for why Florida must focus on resilience and adaptation in storm and community planning moving forward.

Photo from the Tampa Bay Times of Fort Myers residents exploring the wreckage.

The Science

While the hurricane’s strength came as a surprise to many Floridians, earlier this year, scientists warned that the season could be more dangerous than seasons past based on recent climate data. Researchers noted that climate change-warmed waters in the Gulf of Mexico and a fast, deep Loop Current would create prime conditions for strong, energetic storms. Jet stream winds and the cooler temperatures that usually weaken hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico weren’t a match for the existing conditions which led to the formation and strengthening of Ian. Increased air temperatures allowed the air to hold more vapor, making Ian particularly damaging in terms of rainfall- bringing in over 13.7 inches of rain in some parts of Florida. Additionally, sea level rise contributed to flooding and storm surges that damaged infrastructure, property, and homes. The numerous conditions- air and water temperature, ocean currents and depth, and sea level rise- caused by climate change are rapidly transforming storms, and what Floridians can expect from them, for the foreseeable future.

The Action

Hurricane Ian’s historic impact on the state of Florida has revealed two key needs for preventing more loss and destruction in future storms: mitigation of its causes, and adaptation to prevent the impact of future hurricanes’ effects.

Lawmakers and NGOs must ramp up their efforts to mitigate climate change. In other words, actors need to take measures that prevent climate change and its hurricane-enhancing effects before conditions worsen. Florida needs to attack climate change from all angles by investing in carbon capture, transitioning to clean energy, and providing incentives for sustainable land use and regenerative agriculture.

Concurrently, based on the existing environmental state, Floridians must continue to prepare and build resilience for future storms, which can form in similar conditions. Floridians must now expect the unexpected, and be prepared for the worst case scenario. Hurricane Ian brought extensive damage to communities across the state, including damaging bridges and leaving people without access to aid, flooding neighborhoods and practically turning homes into islands, and ravaging residential buildings. Much of the damage was felt by communities which cannot afford to repair and rebuild, leaving those who need aid with nothing. All Floridians need better water management strategies and infrastructure improvements, updated stormwater systems and pumps, and comprehensive insurance that covers climate-related risks. Concurrent with physical improvements, lawmakers must understand the needs of vulnerable communities and take their populations into account as they develop resilience plans. To prevent future, unexpected changes in storms, it’s also important that the state invests in developing higher resolution models to better predict climate change and include information that predicts the magnitude and effects of extreme events.

How you can help

If you'd like to donate to groups providing aid for Hurricane Ian victims, please consider supporting the following groups

Feeding Florida (Food bank funding for hurricane victims)

CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort)

If you’d like to contribute to helping Floridians rebuild their communities to be more resilient, please consider supporting the following organizations:

If you want to support climate mitigation efforts, check out:

Florida is vulnerable to climate change and hurricanes, and the combination of the two in the case of Hurricane Ian have highlighted how serious climate action is. We send our well wishes to all of the Floridians affected, and hope that we can all work together to reduce the impacts of climate change in the state we call home.


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