By the time Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday it had strengthened into a ferocious Category 4 storm with 150 miles per hour winds, but the change didn't happen gradually. Less than two days before, Ida's winds were only half that fast, which means that it underwent an increasingly common transformation called rapid intensification, the term scientists use for when a storm's winds pick up by 35 mph or more within 24 hours. You can probably guess one of the causes behind the phenonemon.
Climate change has indeed played a role in supercharging storms, Bloomberg reports. That's because rising ocean temperatures act as a fuel of sorts for storms, and scientists have begun to understand that warm deep ocean water in particular, as opposed to surface temperatures, is a key factor.
"Deeper warm water tends to be more conducive to hurricanes than shallow warm water because as a hurricane moves overhead, its winds churn up the water in a process called upwelling, which brings deeper water up to the surface," Kimberly Wood, an assistant professor in the at Mississippi State University, told Bloomberg. "When that deeper water is a similar and also high temperature to the original sea surface temperature, that 'new' water will continue to provide fuel to the storm."
The good news is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tools to measure temperature and salinity (another factor in intensification) conditions up to two kilometers deep. In the case of Ida, NOAA scientists realized there was no cold water deep down beneath the storm, which helped them predict that it would quickly gain steam. Read more at Bloomberg.