Hurricane Florence

AP Photo/Tom Copeland

What Effect Is Climate Change Having On Hurricane Florence?

September 14, 2018 - 2:05 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- Whenever a storm such as Hurricane Florence happens, talk turns to how much climate change may have played a role.

Florence made landfall a few miles east of Wilmington, North Carolina on Friday morning, as the center of its eye moved onshore near Wrightsville Beach, the National Hurricane Center said.

Its storm surge and the prospect of 1 to 3 1/2 feet of rain were considered a bigger threat than its winds, which had dropped off from an alarming 140 mph — Category 4 — earlier in the week. Forecasters said catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected well inland over the next few days as Florence crawls westward across the Carolinas all weekend.

Brian Sullivan of Bloomberg told WCBS 880’s Pat Farnack Friday that the magnitude of some of Florence’s effects does seem to be impacted by climate change. One of them is the changes in the jet stream that have in turn changed the routes that hurricanes follow.

“Rutgers researcher Jennifer Francis has kind of teased out that the changes in the jet stream brought on by the arctic areas warming up quickly in the springtime has actually kind of led to a series of blocks. And one of these blocks actually is what helped Florence go all the way across the Atlantic, from where it was, into the United States,” Sullivan said. “Normally, a storm like this wouldn’t have done that. It would have curved off and gone into the northern latitudes.”

Further, the storm surge record for North Carolina was broken Friday.

“That record would not have broken if the sea levels hadn’t risen since the last time it was set,” Sullivan said. “The first time it was set was in the 1950s. Since then, the sea level has risen by about 8 inches, according to Jeff Masters from Weather Underground, and that is what actually propelled the storm surge to break a new record today. So there’s actually a concrete example of how the world has changed, and we’re seeing the results of it.”

Sullivan said long-term, the consequence of climate change is not expected to  be more storms, so much as more severe ones.

“We’ve seen it here on the East Coast back in March, where there was actually a stuck trough, which led to a series of really devastating nor’easters coming up the coast,” Sullivan said, “and you know, we set records here in Boston for high tide that we have never set before, you know, and we had flooding into the streets and everything else.”

Hurricane Florence is about 400 miles wide, with hurricane-force winds stretching across a 140-mile span. Up to 18 trillion gallons falling on seven states over seven days, as much water as there is the entire Chesapeake Bay.

Storm surge of up to 13 feet is likely, and seawaters could push inland 2 miles depending on how long Florence lingers.

Historically, 49 percent of U.S. hurricane deaths come from storm surge, 27 percent from rain, 8 percent from wind, 6 percent from surf, 6 percent were offshore and 3 percent from tornadoes.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)