Hurricane Maria, which killed thousands of people and caused $90 billion worth of damages in Puerto Rico, was exacerbated by climate change.
Scientists confirmed that the 2017 superhurricane had the highest average rainfall among the total of 129 storms that hit Puerto Rico in the past 60 years. Moreover, they warned that a storm of the same strength is now five times more likely to happen due to warming caused by human activities.
"What we found was that Maria's magnitude of peak precipitation is much more likely in the climate of 2017 when it happened versus the beginning of the record in 1950," stated David Keelings, a geographer from the University of Alabama.
Keellings is the lead author of the study that appears in the American Geophysical Union's journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Analyzing The Destructive Rainfall Brought To Puerto Rico By Hurricane Maria
To evaluate the record-breaking rainfall of Hurricane Maria, the researchers analyzed the daily precipitation data from 35 stations beginning in 1956. They found that the 2017 extreme weather event brought 1,029 millimeters of rain, making it one of the top 10 wettest hurricanes to hit a territory of the United States.
They also investigated whether the precipitation was a result of natural climate variability or if it was triggered by human-induced warming. They calculated the likelihood that a hurricane with similar strength hitting Puerto Rico in the 50s versus today.
They reported that it is 4.85 times more likely that a storm with Maria's extreme rain happening in 2017 than in 1956.
Human-Induced Global Warming Is Creating Stronger Hurricanes
The new study only affirms what scientists have known and been warning about for years: climate change will bring extreme weather events. A previous study linked the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the Gulf Coast to climate change. Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria are one of the top three costliest hurricanes on record.
"Some things that are changing over the long-term are associated with climate change — like the atmosphere getting warmer, sea surface temperatures increasing, and more moisture being available in the atmosphere," explained Keellings, "together they make something like Maria more likely in terms of its magnitude of precipitation."