Hurricanes and Climate Change
When Hurricane Michael exploded in strength over the Gulf of Mexico in October 2018 and hit Florida with a devastating storm surge and 160 mile-per-hour winds, it marked the first Category 5 storm to reach the Panhandle and only the fifth to make landfall in the United States.
Michael reduced much of the Panhandle town of Mexico Beach to splinters and destroyed parts of other nearby communities. We saw the destruction firsthand while reporting here for the American Climate project. It killed 16 people across the Southeast and is considered responsible for 43 other deaths in Florida, including from storm clean-up accidents and health issues worsened by the hurricane, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It inflicted about $25 billion of damage to the region, including about $5 billion alone at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City.
More than other weather disasters, hurricanes seem to prompt people to ask: Was climate change to blame?
That, climate scientists say, is the wrong question. People should instead be asking, How much worse did climate change make it? says Texas Tech climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe.