Florida Governor Rick Scott said that Hurricane Michael will be “the worst storm that our Florida Panhandle has seen in a century.” The National Weather Service asserted that Michael will “be a catastrophic event the likes of which this region has never seen.” The Weather Channel made a harrowing segment helping to visualize what the surge of expected water will look like.
The biggest life-threatening danger with hurricanes is always the flooding, as nearly half of all U.S. hurricane deaths come from water being pushed onshore in a huge surge. Rainfall flooding accounts for a quarter of all U.S. deaths in hurricanes and tropical storms. Michael is poised to follow that trend, especially as it decreases in pressure.
Here is an excerpt from Sciencing that explains why low barometric pressure is such a bad thing when it comes to hurricanes:
Inside a hurricane, the barometric pressure at the ocean's surface drops to extremely low levels. As air is pulled into the eye of the hurricane, it draws moisture from the ocean and rises rapidly before condensing, cooling and releasing large amounts of heat into the atmosphere before falling and begins the cycle again. This refuels the hurricane, lowering the barometric pressure on the ocean surface. The lower the barometric pressure at the center of the storm, the stronger the hurricane, and vice versa.
The latest measure as of this writing (11:30 am EST*) puts Michael's barometric pressure at 928 mb, which already makes it one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the Atlantic basin.
*I wrote that 928 mb figure a half hour ago, and by the time I finished finding updates on the storm, it became a “worst case scenario” according to the National Weather Service. Please stay safe out there, folks.
If it feels like the intensity of hurricanes is increasing, that’s because it is. This is climate change. The Earth gets warmer and wetter, which are the exact conditions hurricanes need to grow in size and power. This is the new normal, and folks living in the southeastern United States (and its latitudinal cousins across the globe) need to begin more robust planning for how they will live amongst nature’s annual weapons of mass destruction. Until we take radical steps to center our economic system around something other than fossil fuels, we can expect this to get much worse.
I have already written about one catastrophic hurricane to hit the Atlantic coast this hurricane season (which killed at least 42 people and will cost as much $170 billion in total), and I can basically just keep writing the same headline of “Hurricane [X] Will Be One of the Most Powerful Hurricanes to Ever Hit [Y]” for every one that makes landfall going forward. Until we seriously address the harrowing consequences of climate change, hurricane season will continue to worsen, and if we don’t address it in time (the newest report gives us ten years to stave off catastrophic damage by 2040), then it’s a serious question of how long our species can continue to populate these areas near the middle of the Earth that are continually and increasingly devastated by mother nature.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.