Michael is now 7 mph away from reaching Category 5 status as it approaches the Florida Panhandle

Michael’s strength may reflect the effect of climate change on storms. The planet has warmed significantly over the past several decades, causing changes in the environment.

Human-caused greenhouse gases in the atmosphere create an energy imbalance, with more than 90% of remaining heat trapped by the gases going into the oceans, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association. There’s evidence of higher sea surface temperature and atmospheric moisture, experts say.

While we might not get more storms in a warmer climate, a majority of studies show that those that do form will get stronger and produce more rain. Storm surge is worse now than it was 100 years ago, thanks to sea level rise.

According to Climate Central, a scientific research organization, the coming decades are expected to bring hurricanes that intensify more rapidly, should there be no change in the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Rapid intensification” took Michael from a tropical storm with sustained winds of 40 mph at mid-day Sunday to a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 mph by mid-day Monday. It experienced a second bout of intensification on Tuesday, going from a 100 mph Category 2 to a dangerous Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds by Wednesday morning.

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