National Hurricane Director Discusses 'Subtle' Impacts Of Climate Change On Hurricanes

May 18, 2018

Researchers including the Union of Concerned Scientists have argued that climate change is exacerbating the strength of hurricanes

Yet not a single session at the 32nd Annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference, held this week in West Palm Beach, focused on climate change research as it relates to hurricanes. 

Ken Graham, the new director of the National Hurricane Center, said that doesn't signal a lack of concern. On WLRN's Sundial program, he said it's important to discuss the impacts of sea level rise, storm surge and increased rain, and the "subtleties to those impacts." 

Here are Graham's comments on climate change and hurricanes: 

WLRN’s Sundial: As the new director, how are you approaching this topic?

Graham: I think for me it's you know it relates back to ... impacts. It's hard to take one storm or one season and equate it to climate change because we can find other seasons that were worse, other seasons that were similar. So that part of it's difficult.

But the one conversation that I know that we do have [to have is on] sea-level rise. It's automatically the first thing that comes to your mind, as well as that storm surge could be higher. The inward extent of that storm surge is part of the conversation. If storm surge used to go a few miles inland ... it would go a lot further. So it's impacts like that - a little more subtleties to those impacts.

The other part is the conversation about rain. You know a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and you can get some heavier rain events. So it goes back to those impacts and looking at what those impacts are and be able to be ready for those.

Is there a concern about discussing climate change and talking about hurricanes at the same time though?

I don't think there's any concern. For me anyway, in my career it's been about what we're going to see on the ground. And I think a lot of the focus of this conference is preparedness. It really is about being resilient and being ready for the next one. There's plenty of conferences where those topics are occurring but I know this one is really focused on emergency management and preparedness.