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Instant study links Hurricane Ian's heavier rains to climate change

Hurricane Ian left debris in Punta Gorda, Fla. after it made landfall. Storms like Ian are more likely because of climate change.
AFP via Getty Images
Hurricane Ian left debris in Punta Gorda, Fla. after it made landfall. Storms like Ian are more likely because of climate change.

As Hurricane Ian barrels through the Carolinas, it's a safe bet that climate change has something to do with its intensity.

An instant analysis Thursday by a pair of climate scientists suggests that Hurricane Ian dropped 10% more rain on Florida than if we didn't have global warming.

The Associated Press reportsthat Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Kevin Reed of Stony Brook University reached that conclusion by plugging new data into a model they built to study previous hurricanes.

The study hasn't been peer-reviewed, and it's probably worth waiting for a more in-depth climate attribution study. But climate scientist Tianyi Sun of the Environmental Defense Fund, who was not involved in the research, said global warming has changed hurricanes.

"We know that climate change is contributing to warmer temperatures in the ocean. It is contributing to more moisture in the atmosphere. These two things are helping storms' growing stronger," Sun said.

Scientists create computer models that capture weather both with and without climate change, she said.

"And they can put these single events (hurricanes) into these two worlds and look at how they will develop differently, and how their impacts might be different. This has been done for many hurricanes in the past. And this is how we found that climate change could contribute to a single hurricane," Sun said.

Hurricane Florence, which devastated North Carolina in 2018, was one of the first major hurricanes where scientists actually predicted that rain and windwould be more intense because of climate change. Post-storm analyses bore that out.

Why does it matter?

"I think it is a clear signal that we really need to rapidly cut our climate pollution, and that is carbon dioxide emissions. That's methane emissions. We need to act now so that we can slow down the speed of global warming," Sun said.

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Corrected: September 30, 2022 at 5:59 PM EDT
This story has been updated to correct the affiliation of Tianyi Sun. She is with the Environmental Defense Fund.
David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.