February 12, 2021
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record. Between May and November, 30 major storms brewed in the Atlantic Ocean. Thirteen of them became hurricanes.
Eta and Iota were powerful hurricanes. Eta hit Central America in November. It caused destruction from Panama to Florida. Iota came two weeks later. It was even more powerful.
Scientists say climate change is to blame. Greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing. Climate change is affecting how storms behave. It’s making them stronger. James P. Kossin is a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “These storms have a human fingerprint on them,” he told TIME for Kids.
Hurricanes begin in the ocean. They take their energy from ocean air. The water in the Atlantic is getting warmer. That means more energy for storms. Winds blow faster. And there is more rain.
Storms are moving more slowly, too. So they have time to cause more damage. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey stalled for days. It flooded parts of Texas. “That storm was devastating,” Kossin says. “It just sat there. And it rained and rained.”
Scientists can help cities plan for big storms. Dereka Carroll-Smith works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. She studies data on communities most affected by hurricanes. These include areas with many elderly people or mobile homes. Carroll-Smith’s research helps cities make plans for evacuating people. “At some point, intense storms are going to be devastating to everyone,” she says.
We need to slow climate change, Kossin says. Reducing greenhouse gases is the first step. “We can stop making it worse. Then we can [start] adapting to the new climate we’re in.”