Climate change didn’t cause Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm to form in the open Atlantic Ocean, but did make it much stronger, scientists in Germany and the U.K. said.
Irma made landfall in the Caribbean early Wednesday and barreled toward Puerto Rico on a path that may bring it ashore in Florida and destroy so much property that damages surpass Hurricane Katrina.
“Unfortunately, the physicality is very clear: Hurricanes get their destructive energy from the warmth of the ocean, and the region’s water temperatures are super elevated,” said Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
Irma comes less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey smashed ashore in Texas, knocking offline almost a quarter of U.S. oil refining capacity and causing widespread damage, power outages, and flooding. Climate change can “badly exacerbate” the impact of the hurricanes, even if it’s not the initial cause, he said.