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Blame climate change for hurricanes such as Irma, experts say

If trends continue, these powerful storms will become more common

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Irma approaches, Gov. Rick Scott has requested and received a pre-landfall emergency declaration from President Trump -- and scientists believe such declarations will be more common in the future.

If Irma makes landfall in Florida, it will be the first time that two Category 4 or greater hurricanes directly hit U.S. soil in one season.

Experts said a changing climate is to blame, and if trends continue, these powerful storms will become more common.

Warming oceans have created a fertile environment for hurricanes such as Irma to grow into Category 5 behemoths, said James Elsner, chair of the department of geography at Florida State University.

“They’ve hit our coast in the past before climate change, but in the future, it’s more likely for them to be stronger -- especially the strongest ones,” Elsner said.

Damage to Florida’s highly developed coastal regions could be astronomical, totaling billions of dollars. High-rises in cities such as Tampa and Miami will be subject to winds of even higher speeds than those felt at ground level.

“Even if the eye doesn’t hit the coastline, it’s still a mighty big storm and those winds will cause a lot of harm,” said Mark Bourassa, a professor of meteorology at FSU.

Officials are urging Floridians to prepare for the worst. The path of the storm is still unclear.

“Taking steps to protect the windows, the doors and especially the garage door are going to pay big dividends after (the fact),” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, the president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, also known as FLASH.

Scott has already activated 100 National Guard members to help with Hurricane Irma preparedness. By Friday, that number will grow to 7,000.

Florida has $17 billion in the State Catastrophe Fund to help cover initial hurricane losses, but given the damage Harvey caused in Texas, the money could quickly be spent, especially in multi-storm events.

To learn more about how to properly prepare your home for the storm, go to FLASH.org.