With hurricane season well underway, researchers believe the chances of a devastating storm will increase five-fold if the Paris climate targets – to limit the global average temperature increase to 2C above pre-industrial levels – are not met. Researchers from the University of Bristol generated thousands of synthetic hurricanes under three climate scenarios: present day conditions compared to the Paris Agreement goals of 1.5C and 2C warming above pre-industrial levels.
The team applied their model to the Caribbean region, with the simulation generating rainfall under synthetic hurricane conditions.
Storms such as Hurricane Maria, which brought as much as a quarter of normal annual rainfall to some regions of Puerto Rico when it made landfall in 2017, occur roughly every 100 years.
However, the results of the study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, show a storm such as Maria would occur every 43 years in a 2C warmer world.
Similarly, a 100-year storm like Maria over the Bahamas was 4.5 more likely to happen in a 2C warmer planet.
Study lead author Emily Vosper, Research Student at the School of Computer Science, at the University of Bristol, said: “Hurricane research has previously focused on the United States, so we wanted to look at the Caribbean region, which has fewer resources to recover.
“The findings are alarming and illustrate the urgent need to tackle global warming to reduce the likelihood of extreme rainfall events and their catastrophic consequences, particularly for poorer countries which take many years to recover.
“We expected extreme hurricanes to be more prevalent in the 2C global warming scenario, but the scale of the projected increases was surprising and should serve as a stark warning to countries across the globe underscoring the importance of keeping climate change under control.
“Our findings show that the impacts of a 2C warming above pre-industrial levels are set to disproportionately affect the Caribbean.
“By focusing efforts to stabilise global warming to the more ambitious 1.5C goal, we could dramatically reduce the likelihood of extreme hurricane rainfall events in the area, particularly in the Eastern Caribbean region.”
According to the researchers, it takes an average of six years for even the richest Caribbean nations to rebuild after a major hurricane.
The study “recommends its findings could be used to inform a multi-hazard, multi-scale approach which identifies the most at-risk areas so resilience funding and strategies can be more effectively targeted.”
Ms Vosper said: “Resources to mitigate damage are limited, so our findings could help highlight the hotspots in greatest danger and need.
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“An integrated climate risk approach is needed to fully understand the threat of future hurricanes to Caribbean populations.
“Further studies could, therefore, incorporate factors that directly affect the health and well-being of local populations – such as storm surge, flood and landslide modelling – into the rainfall results to quantify such threats and feed into adaptation and resilience planning.
“Reducing the likelihood of extreme hurricanes should be the overriding priority.
“Our research clearly illustrates how vital it is to keep striving to meet the lower global warming temperature target, and the collective responsibility all countries, cities, communities, governments and individuals share to make that happen.”
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