We’re not just imagining that hurricanes are worse than they used to be. Scientists have noted the process of rapid intensification, which means hurricanes quickly become super deadly. And they say this is related to climate change.

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On Tuesday morning, Hurricane Ian turned into a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 125 miles-per-hour. It hit Cuba and kept going, morphing into a Category 4 storm by the next morning. When it made landfall on Wednesday afternoon, it was only a few miles per hour short of topping the scale at Category 5.

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According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, if winds increase at least 35 miles-per-hour within 24 hours, that’s rapid intensification. Hurricane Ian did this twice.

“Rapid intensification happens when a tropical cyclone that already has some organization moves over very warm water and within an atmospheric environment of calm surrounding conditions and a moist, unstable air mass,” said Richard Knabb, director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, as reported by CBS News. “All of these factors were clearly in play before the rapid intensification of Ian, which is why rapid intensification was anticipated fairly far in advance. Not every storm that encounters these conditions strengthens, sometimes due to internal structural changes that are hard to anticipate, but Ian did.”

Why are scientists pinning rapid intensification on climate change? Warmer sea temperatures fuel hurricanes, as do a moist, unstable atmosphere. We’re not having more tropical storms and hurricanes than we used to, but the ones we do have are stronger and intensify more quickly.

“This has recently resulted in tropical storms and hurricanes having major water impacts, even without being a major hurricane — Category 3 or stronger — on the wind scale,” said Knabb, as reported by CBS. “In addition, sea level rise will only continue to increase the magnitude and inland extent of flooding already caused by storm surge, when saltwater is pushed onto normally dry ground from the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean.”

Via CBS News

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