But zombie storms are going to happen more often, said Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And as with other natural disasters that have been intensifying in recent years, such as wildfires and hurricanes, climate change and rapid global warming are to blame. There has been an “extreme amount of heating of the Gulf (of Mexico), particularly in some of the ocean areas off of the Carribean,” Wuebbles told Live Science. The Gulf of Mexico, where many hurricanes gain strength before hitting the U.S., is particularly vulnerable to global warming because the gulf waters are very shallow — and thus heat up easily, Wuebbles said.
Atlantic Ocean storms typically form in warmer parts of the ocean near Africa, due to a combination of atmospheric and ocean conditions. They then “race across” the ocean toward the Americas, Wuebbles said. Hurricanes need warm water and moist air to form, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Storms grow if there’s a continuous supply of energy from warm water and air, and they weaken when they move over cooler waters or over land.