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Sequential hurricanes are becoming more common because of climate changes

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Scientists believe that climate change is making hurricanes more dangerous. And when multiple storms hit in a short period of time, it can overwhelm emergency responses, which has been happening repeatedly during the Atlantic hurricane season. NPR's Rebecca Hersher reports on new research that suggests back-to-back storms could become more frequent.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Climate change is making hurricanes more intense, which means more powerful wind, more rain and more flooding from storm surge. The new study finds that climate change also makes it more likely that two storms will hit in quick succession, which is bad news for coastal communities. Ning Lin is the lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. She's a climate scientist at Princeton University.

NING LIN: The communities need to recover from disasters and bounce back, right? However, if you have a storm impacting one location and shortly after, before you recover, you get another storm impacting the same location...

HERSHER: ...Then a second storm will do even more damage than it otherwise would have. It's like getting kicked when you're already down. This is already clear in places that have seen back-to-back hurricanes in recent years. For example, south Louisiana was hit with two hurricanes in less than two months in 2020, permanently destroying some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods. In the future, such sequential disasters will get more common, the study finds. The reason is somewhat counterintuitive. It's not that there will be a larger number of storms overall. Instead, as the Earth gets hotter, storms are getting more intense. And so people on the coast experience dangerous floods and wind more often. Adam Sobel is a climate scientist at Columbia University.

ADAM SOBEL: The storm is getting stronger, so one that might have been too weak to be a real problem before is now going to be stronger. So even for the same number of storms, the number that are a real problem goes up because of the strengthening.

HERSHER: So what can be done? Sobel says one thing is to change where we live.

SOBEL: We could find ways to stop building stuff, you know, in hazard-prone areas of the coast, but so far that hasn't been happening.

HERSHER: Some of the fastest-growing places in the U.S. - Florida, for example - are also the most vulnerable to hurricanes.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.