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What we know (and don’t) about how climate change impacts hurricanes like Ian

It’s a question that follows any natural disaster, especially monster hurricanes like Ian: Was this caused by climate change?

When asked, scientists like Kevin Reed usually push back. Most researchers agree it’s not valid to point to a single storm and say it was “caused” by the warming world. Too many variables.

“That is a question that is really difficult to answer. There is no ‘what would have September 2022 looked like without climate change?’ We don’t have that,” said Reed, an associate professor in the school of marine and atmospheric sciences, at Stony Brook University.

But there’s a growing consensus that the sea level rise and higher temperatures in the last hundred years have already impacted storms like Ian, which raked Florida last week, and may continue to do so in the future. At the very least, hotter weather means hotter oceans, which fuel hurricane strength.

“We live in a world that’s over 1 degree warmer (Celsius), there’s no doubt that hurricanes have changed in some respect because of climate change,” he said.

Tom Knutson, a senior scientist at NOAA studying climate and hurricanes, said scientists are most confident in noticing what’s changed about storms in the modern world. But less so about being able to connect those changes to climate change. Predicting what the future could hold is even tougher.