, August 26, 2008 (ENS) - "The big picture is that global warming is putting hurricanes on steroids," declared climate scientist Dr. Amanda Staudt of the National Wildlife Federation, one of the country's largest conservation groups.
Windspeeds could increase 13 percent and rainfall could increase 31 percent, Staudt warned at the launch of her new report last week.
"As so many grapple with Tropical Storm Fay's landfall in the United States, our thoughts and prayers are with those in harm's way," she said.
Now weakened from a Tropical Storm to a Tropical Depression, Fay will be pouring down rain in Alabama, the Florida Panhandle, eastern Tennessee, Georgia and parts of the Carolinas most of Tuesday and Wednesday, say National Weather Service forecasters. Fay has been in Florida and the Deep South since August 18.
While weary Florida and Gulf Coast residents endure yet another round of flooding, destruction and power outages, the latest science connecting hurricanes and global warming suggests more of the same is yet to come, said Dr. Staudt.
"Although no single weather event can be attributed to global warming, it's critical to understand that a warming climate is supplying the very conditions that fuel the strongest storms," she said, predicting higher wind speeds, more precipitation, and bigger storm surges in the coming decades.
The destructive potential of tropical storms in the North Atlantic has increased by about 50 percent since the 1970s, Staudt states in the report.
Deltona, Florida Fire Department Search and Rescue members, Randy Siebert, left, and Tony Jacinto deliver food and medications to stranded residents of this Volusia County community. August 24, 2008. Six days after the first landfall of Tropical Storm Fay, communities are still stranded. (Photo by Barry Bahler courtesy FEMA)
And the heights of big waves along the eastern United States have increased by 20 percent during hurricane season since the late 1970s, augmenting the overall risk to coastal communities and wildlife habitats.
Staudt says the increase reflects longer storm lifetimes and greater storm intensities. She correlates it with an increase of 0.9 to 1.3°Fahrenheit in sea surface temperatures in the main development area for storms in the North Atlantic.
The report is entitled "Increasing Vulnerability to Hurricanes: Global Warming's Wake-Up Call for the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic Coasts," reflecting Dr. Straudt's concern that hurricanes are getting stronger as the oceans warm.
Straudt points out that the increasing coastal population and development in Florida and along the Gulf Coast puts more people as well as wildlife at risk of hurricanes.
For protection, she says, we could use the natural function of coastal wetlands and barrier islands to absorb the destructive force of the stronger hurricanes of the future.
But wetland loss has been a persistent problem along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and will only be made worse by increasing sea level, she notes in the report.
"We must account for increasing storm activity and rising sea level when managing our coasts, especially by restoring and protecting coastal wetlands, lowlands, and barrier islands that provide crucial natural levees," Dr. Staudt advises.
Wetlands can reduce the size of storm surges by inhibiting the formation and propagation of waves. Scientists have estimated that every mile of wetlands can trim three to nine inches off of a storm surge.
Linking stronger storms with global warming, Staudt says if greenhouse gas emissions continue at today's levels over the next century, tropical sea surface temperatures could rise another 3° F, or three times the warming increase to date.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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