Satellite view of hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico

Are record-breaking hurricanes our new normal in a changing climate?

If it seems as though the most intense hurricanes happen more often than they used to, you’re right: The proportion of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes that are Category 3 or above has doubled since 1980.

And if you’re wondering how climate change has contributed, consider this: Over 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases has been absorbed by the world’s oceans.

That means warmer waters, rising seas, higher wind speeds and more moisture in the atmosphere.

These shifts are making hurricanes stronger, wetter and more likely to intensify rapidly, unleashing record-breaking downpours with little time for communities to evacuate.

Fiona Lo.

Scientists expect that the rapid intensification of hurricanes will continue in the future unless drastic measures are taken to limit further climate change.

— Fiona Lo, Climate Scientist

How wetland restoration can slash storm costs

The most cost-effective protection we have against hurricanes is restored natural infrastructure: the coastal marshes and forested swamps known as wetlands, plus the barrier islands and oyster reefs found in some coastal landscapes.

Coastal wetlands are a double whammy against super storms because they absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere to stabilize the climate, reducing flood risk, while also slowing and lessening storm surge, reducing flood damage.

Hurricanes by the numbers

  • 0

    Minutes for a football field’s worth of Louisiana wetlands to disappear into the Gulf due to shipping canals, levees and sea level rise
  • $0.0B

    Hurricane recovery costs saved for every kilometer of wetlands restored
  • 0%

    How much high-tide flooding has jumped in some coastal areas because of sea level rise, which has doubled in the past century

Why coastlines are more vulnerable now

Loss of wetlands is a big reason why coastal communities are more exposed to storms than they once were, just as more dangerous storms are on the rise.

A key example: the high walls and embankments the U.S. built 100 years ago along the Mississippi River in an attempt to control flooding.

These levees cut off the river’s connections with its surrounding wetlands, which ended the continuous deposits of sediment that had created the Mississippi River Delta.

Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost 2,000 square miles of wetlands — an area the size of Delaware — that once provided a vital buffer against hurricanes, as well as habitat for wildlife, birds and fish.

Volunteer for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana planting native swamp grasses

Volunteers for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, an EDF partner, have planted more than 80,000 native marsh and dune grass plugs. Photo credit: CRCL

Pointe-au-Chien tribal member deploying oyster shells to rebuild reef

A member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe deploys restaurant-recycled oyster shells to rebuild an oyster reef near culturally important tribal land. Photo credit: CRCL

Teenage volunteers for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana planting swamp trees

More than 40,000 native swamp trees, including bald cypress, red swamp maple and water tupelo, are taking root in the Delta thanks to CRCL volunteers. Photo credit: CRCL

Volunteers for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, an EDF partner, plant native marsh grasses and swamp trees — and rebuild oyster reefs using restaurant-recycled oyster shells. Photo credit: CRCL

Now, large-scale, government-led coastal restoration projects are underway to reconnect the Mississippi River with its wetlands so that river water — and its sediment — can once again flow in to rebuild these natural barriers.

What needs to happen next

To protect communities from intensifying hurricanes, we must make restoring wetlands on coasts a priority.

In the United States, Congress can begin by fully funding the tens of billions of dollars of coastal restoration projects that are authorized but not yet funded.

Our hurricane experts

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Media contact

Samantha Tausendschoen

(715) 220-9930 (office)