Featured image: Hurricane Irma barrels over Florida in 2017 (Public Domain).

The takeaway message:

Scientists have made a new discovery that may help them better understand what drives hurricane formation, a finding that could help improve forecasts as climate change is predicted to bring more intense and slower-moving storms.  

What’s going on?

(Nov. 18 Update: Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in Florida just south of Cedar Key on Nov. 12, and Hurricane Iota made landfall in Nicaragua on Nov. 17, bringing the total number of named storms to 30.)

With a record 28 named storms so far this year, an international team of scientists has gained a better understanding of how and why tropical cyclones form and intensify into hurricanesThe team, which included a researcher from Florida State University, found that the deep clouds within storms create their own localized greenhouse effect, or heat-trapping blanket, that warms the atmosphere in the area of the developing storm and causes it to intensify. This information could help improve hurricane forecasts in the future. 

Along the Gulf Coast, this hurricane season has been one for the books, as eight of the 11 named storms to strike the U.S. made landfall in this region. 

Forecasters moved past the hurricane naming alphabet into Greek letters in September, something that’s only happened one other time in history. And while none of these storms technically made landfall in FloridaHurricane Sally’s winds and heavy rains pummeled the western Panhandle as the storm made landfall in Alabama right along the state border.  

Along with downed trees, flooded homes and streets, and damaged buildings, bridges and cropsHurricane Sally also washed up oil along 5 miles of Florida coast. Coast Guard officers say the oil might have been stirred up from underground waters by Sally’s strong winds. Florida coastal waters still contain remnants of oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Spill, which officials say could be a possible source of the post-Sally oil slicks.

The official hurricane season will end on Nov. 30.

Why it matters:

This hurricane season stands out as unusual; the only similarly busy season in history was in 2005 when forecasters also moved to Greek letters to name the year’s cyclones.

As we continue to burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, to power our cars, homes and businesses, we release excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. While regular carbon dioxide — that animals exhale and plants absorb — is a part of normal life processes, the burning of fossil fuels releases excess, or rampant carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thickening the heat-trapping blanket that surrounds Earth. This rampant carbon dioxide is warming our atmosphere and oceans at alarming rates

Just like our heart regulates the blood flow throughout our body, the ocean controls the Earth’s temperature by moving heat and moisture via currents and winds. But, as the ocean absorbs the excess heat, it gets stressed and can pump too much heat and moisture throughout the system, and sometimes too little. This change is predicted to lead to stronger and slower hurricanes in the future. As we know, these storms can damage homes, businesses and our natural environment.

While hurricanes will always be synonymous with our state, community-based actions can help prevent climate change from making them worse for future generationsFor example, the Orlando Utilities Commission recently committed to stop burning coal by 2023 and switch completely to renewable energy by 2050, a measure that would lessen the amount of rampant carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. 

What can I do?  

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