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Climate change linked to Hurricane Maria's extreme rainfall

Hurricanes like Maria 5 times likelier than in 1950s

Satellite measured rainfall from Hurricane Maria over the Caribbean measured a large swath of rain over 20 inches.
Satellite measured rainfall from Hurricane Maria over the Caribbean measured a large swath of rain over 20 inches.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Climate change has been directly linked to Hurricane Maria's extreme rainfall.

Hurricanes like Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico, are almost five times more likely to form now compared to the planet's cooler climate during the 1950s. This increase is primarily due to human-induced warming, according to a new study published by the American Geophysical Union.

David Keellings, a geographer at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and lead author of a new study in AGU's journal Geophysical Research Letters says:

"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." 

Keellings analyzed Puerto Rico's hurricane history and found out, of all 129 storms to strike the island in the last 60 years, Maria had the highest average rainfall.

In the 1950s, a storm like Maria was likely to drop that much rain once every 300 years. But in 2017, that likelihood rose to about once every 100 years, according to the study.

"Due to anthropogenic climate change, it is now much more likely that we get these hurricanes that drop huge amounts of precipitation," Keellings said.

Hurricane Maria maximum daily rainfall from 129 historical tropical cyclones with the top five storms labeled.


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