Global Reset

Natural disasters strike the U.S. in Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas and California

by Vijay Bharadwaj and Aditya Singhvi

Several natural disasters, including four major hurricanes and various wildfires, have impacted the United States in the past two months.

Atlantic hurricanes often occur in a window from June to November, peaking around late August. Despite that, the coincidence of these hurricanes can be considered unusual according to Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central. 2017 has been one of the worst years on record, with two Category 5 storms.

“It’s important to note that we are going to have busy hurricane years and we’re gonna have some years that aren’t as busy,” Sublette said. “That’s kind of a natural cycle by itself. If you think back to 2005, that was a very active year. We’ve been very fortunate in the last decade that we haven’t had a lot of intense category 4s and 5s come so close to Category 4s and 5s come so close to land masses here in the Atlantic.”

Hurricanes typically form around warm ocean waters, which are found close to the equator. Colder waters, found further from the equator such as in Northern California, are less likely to produce hurricanes. Ocean temperatures have risen 1-3 degrees fahrenheit over the past 100 years, according to Sublette, and the warming of the oceans is likely to increase the temperature difference between warm and cold waters.

“The climate change doesn’t cause the storms, but what it does do is make them worse. Quantifying that is a little more difficult, because you need to do some pretty heavy-duty research, but the very short version is that it makes a very bad situation worse,” he said.

The most recent hurricanes to hit the southeast United States include Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Irma and Jose.

Aside from the hurricanes, wildfires have also intensified in southern California.

“There’s very good correlation between rising temperatures and the occurrences of wildfires in the western United States,” Sublette said. “Part of the reason for that, indirectly, is drought. California had been through a four year drought, but had very good snow and rainfall this past winter, which is traditionally their wet season. So what that does for the western part of the country is that it allows vegetation to flourish early in the spring. And then these things dry out in the summer. So climate change, by itself, does not cause droughts. It makes them worse.”

With all the natural disasters occurring, the discussion around efforts to alleviate the impacts of climate change have ramped up. According to Stanford professor Robert Kolstad, there might be increased political action being taken towards such efforts.

“It’s not necessarily a question of denying what should be obvious to most people, it’s a more of a political posturing,” Kolstad said. “I think that you are going to see a lot more action and taking seriously the threat of climate change at the local and state level. Governors taking it more seriously, local authorities that are in charge of preparedness for extreme weather taking it more seriously, and possibly even people taking it more seriously so it may stop being such a contested issue. ”

Kolstad believes that areas such as “the Gulf coast, from Florida on to Corpus Christi, as well as up the East coast of Florida, probably up to the Georgia border”, are more likely to be affected by hurricanes.

To prevent damage, Kolstad also wants the federal government to improve their current policies to encourage people to build in vulnerable areas by selling them cheap insurance policies.

“If they fix that, then there wouldn’t be so many structures in the way of the hurricane. If the hurricane just blows over empty land, it’s much more modest consequences.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on October 12, 2017.