Gulf of Mexico
Plants overflow from a rain garden planted by Water Wise NOLA in the Treme neighborhood. PHOTO BY SHAWN FINK

LA - Stronger storms, hotter winters, crawfish migration: $5.4M funds LSU study links to climate change

Stronger hurricanes, hot winters and unusual crawfish behavior that's driving the crustacean’s mass emigration from Louisiana’s coast.

A team of three researchers and professors at Louisiana State University suspected those trends might be linked to a changing climate. And now, thanks to a $5.4 million federal grant, they aim to find out.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, is giving LSU and three other Gulf Coast research organizations the money over five years as part of the Southern Climate Impact Planning Program.

This is the program’s fourth phase of funding, as these four entities have worked to plan and mitigate weather impacts since 2008, when they developed what experts bill as the world’s most comprehensive storm surge database called SURGEDAT.

State climatologist and professor Barry Keim and his team of researchers track extreme rainfall events across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi in hopes of identifying factors that contribute to the storms’ intensity and frequency.

“For the past 13 years, we have been producing research, tools and knowledge that reduce weather and climate risks now and in the future,” Keim said. “NOAA’s continued support of this work validates its importance, especially now as extreme weather events, flooding and wildfires threaten critical infrastructure and our livelihood across the country.”

Along with tracking storms, the researchers work with the Louisiana Department of Health to monitor temperature factors that lead to heat-related hospitalizations and winter freezes that affect coastal ecology.

“This project has a human focus,” Keim said. “We’re trying to figure out what brings people into emergency rooms in the summer, how humidity and temperature combine to send people to hospitals.”

Keim said there is a dramatic decrease in the number of days when temperatures are below freezing in the Southern states, which poses issues for plants and animals that depend on temperature-driven cycles to survive.

“Maximum temperatures are staying the same, but we’re seeing fewer and fewer cold days, which can be dangerous to the region’s ecology,” he said.

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