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Global climate change

Hurricane Maria's extreme rainfall likely enhanced by climate change

By Brett Anderson, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
4/17/2019, 12:17:57 PM

New, peer-reviewed research from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) states that Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island of Puerto Rico in 2017, had the highest average rainfall (41 inches) of the 129 storms that have struck the island in the past 60 years.

Maria ranks in the top 10 wettest hurricanes to ever hit U.S. territory, according to the AGU report.

“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 – together they make something like Maria more likely in terms of its magnitude of precipitation,” said David Keellings, who is a geographer at the University of Alabama and lead author of the study.

The study found that Maria was 4.85 times more likely to happen in the climate of 2017 than in 1956. This amount of change cannot be explained by natural climate cycles alone.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else that the island has ever seen,” Keellings said. “I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that’s happened in the last 60 years.”

A storm such as Maria was likely to drop that amount of rain once every 300 years back in the 1950s. However, in 2017 it is more like once every 100 years, according to the study.

“Extreme precipitation during tropical cyclones has been increased by climate change,” he said. “Not all storms have a large amount of inland flooding, of freshwater flooding. But of those that do, the floods are increased to some extent by climate change.”

* Key quotes are taken from the AGU report.

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The study is posted in the journal Geophysical Research letters.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Global climate change