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As Hermine Strengthens, Experts Warn Climate Change Could Worsen Effects

Hermine does not have "a good historical comparison," which makes its future "harder to predict," said meteorologist Eric Holthaus

Hermine pummels a North Carolina shoreline. (Photo: AP)

Sea level rise caused by climate change could mean the damage wrought by Post-Tropical Cyclone Hermine will be even greater than previous surges, scientists warned this weekend.

Pennsylvania State University geosciences professor Michael Mann told the Guardian, "We are already experiencing more and more flooding due to climate change in every storm. And it's only the beginning."

As the storm wound its way up the coast on Sunday after killing two people and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands in Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia last week, National Hurricane Center (NHC) director Rick Knabb warned in a webcast that Hermine "could become hurricane force again."

The NHC issued a morning advisory that stated, "The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline."

In fact, as meteorologist Eric Holtaus wrote for Pacific Standard Mag on Saturday, Hermine's impact could be worse than Hurricane Sandy for certain communities, such as those in coastal New Jersey.

"Hermine could bring record coastal flooding but only if its peak storm surge aligns with high tide — which will already be a bit higher than normal thanks to the new moon," Holthaus wrote.


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In a separate post for FiveThirtyEight titled "We Haven't Seen Many Storms Like Hermine," Holthaus also noted that Hermine does not have "a good historical comparison," which makes its future "harder to predict," explaining:

Even during peak hurricane season, hurricanes that pass north of the Delmarva Peninsula typically weaken because of cooler ocean waters that limit the growth of central thunderstorms. But not Hermine. This sort of storm arguably wouldn't be possible without the near-record high ocean temperatures currently offshore. Waters between North Carolina and New Jersey are warm enough to sustain a hurricane right now, about 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. That means the region where Hermine will be camped out for most of this week likely wouldn't foster intensification in a normal, cooler year. Climate change is expected to make storms like Hermine even more common in the North Atlantic.

Forecasters said Hermine could return to hurricane force by Sunday evening with winds of up to 74 miles per hour. The NHC warned in its advisory that "there is a danger of life-threatening inundation in the next 36 hours from Chincoteague, Virginia, to Sandy Hook, New Jersey."

The warnings were ominous enough that officials closed beaches and roads and canceled Labor Day events. The governors of New Jersey and Maryland implored residents to be cautious and prepare for potential flooding or other hazards.

NHC senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown told the Guardian, "It's going to sit offshore and it is going to be a tremendous coastal event with a dangerous storm surge and lots of larger waves probably causing significant beach erosion, for the next few days."

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