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The Wind and the Fury

Has climate change made hurricanes fiercer, or are such claims hot air?

As Hurricane Katrina steamed forward on Thursday, Aug. 25, residents of the southeastern U.S. shore breathed sighs of relief. The storm passed Miami as a weak hurricane, rating as only a category 1 storm on a scale from 1 to 5. But within days, relief turned to alarm, amid warnings from forecasters that the worst might be yet to come. The storm sucked energy from warm Gulf of Mexico waters as it moved west, swelling into a category 5 monster and then weakening only slightly before it slammed into the Mississippi shore as a category 4 hurricane. Abundant rain and a surge of ocean water overwhelmed flood-control measures and broke levees at nearby Lake Pontchartrain, deluging New Orleans with up to 20 feet of water and plunging the city into mayhem.

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