The Environment

Some Topics


  • Cyclones, Hurricanes

    A dramatic expression of weather occurs over the oceans as tropical cyclones. Cyclones are called hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Cyclones form over warm ocean water usually above 80 degrees F. and greater than 200 meters deep. With increased global ocean temperature rise, the main feature of global warming, hurricanes are becoming more frequent, wider and more ferocious. Heat evaporates water which rises and cools to saturation, condensing into clouds and rain. A hurricane combines thunderstorms , strong winds, rain, high waves, storm surges, and tornadoes. The thunderstorms around the center of circulation form into an eyewall. The strongest winds in a tropical cyclone are found in the northeastern part of the eyewall, where the storm’s forward motion adds to the momentum.

    Coastal regions are vulnerable to damage from winds, rain and storm surges. Heavy rains cause flooding inland. Storm surges can cause coastal flooding up to 40 kilometers from a coastline. In the USA, hurricane Katrina was the costliest hurricane worldwide causing $81.2 billion in property damage with overall damage estimates exceeding $100 billion. Katrina killed 1,836 people after striking Louisiana and Mississippi as a major hurricane in August 2005. Hurricane Sandy was the second most destructive tropical cyclone in U.S history, with damages totaling $68 billion (2012 USD), and with damage costs at $37.5 billion. Sandy hit New York with alarming floods and property destruction. Sandy was a prototype of devastating hurricanes that will continue to increase in size and destructive power to threatened the Gulf of Mexico coasts of the USA.

    The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season was severe. The season shattered several records, The season began nearly five months before the official start, with Hurricane Alex forming in the Northeastern Atlantic in mid-January, the first Atlantic January hurricane since Hurricane Alice in 1955. The deadliest storm of the season was Hurricane Matthew with at least 1,044 deaths attributed and the southernmost Category 5 Atlantic hurricane on record, and the first Category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic since Felix in 2007. Twelve of the fifteen developed tropical cyclones (except Fiona, Ian and Lisa) have impacted land, and seven of those storms caused loss of life, directly or indirectly. [i]

    In 2017 a dramatic increase in Atlantic hurricanes caused extensive damage to Caribbean islands, Texas, Florida and adjacent states. Rubin wrote:” This year’s Atlantic hurricane season is now one of the 10 most active on record, with 14 named storms and ten hurricanes, five of which became major hurricanes—category 3 or stronger. The Atlantic basin has seen eight consecutive storms develop into hurricanes for the first time in 124 years. The average number of hurricanes in an entire Atlantic season is six. [ii]

    A summary in Nature described the increasing catastrophic events in 2017. ”In 2017 four hurricanes threatened the USA. Harvey was a record breaking giant that hit Houston Texas and left the city with extensive floods and catastrophic damage. Heavy rain flooded low lying sections of the city. Houston is the oil and gas capital of the USA. Over 500,000 flood damaged cars and trucks were hauled to massive transport yards for disposal or reconstruction. Houston demonstrated the intimate connection between combustion engines, global warming and mass destruction,

    From Florida and the Gulf Coast to Kentucky and Southern Appalachia, the rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather caused by global warming threatens to disrupt local economies and endanger working class communities. Despite the hazards, states like Texas have taken few steps to reduce risk. New houses and developments are built on flood plains. Migration to Texas and the South generally have increased the risk exposure to newcomers settling in low-lying areas. Smart observers realized that a whole new approach to living in the damaged areas was required.

    “Hurricane Irma followed Harvey causing destruction of several Caribbean islands before hitting Florida. The Caribbean islands and the US state of Florida were disabled and often without power, potable water and sewage in the wake of Hurricane Irma. At its height, Irma was a category-5 storm, with winds that reached speeds of more than 297 kilometers per hour. The hurricane caused extensive damage on its march through the Caribbean, leveling buildings, downing power lines and flooding roads and homes. Photos and reports from Barbuda, Anguilla and St Martin reveal barely habitable islands where many people are without shelter, food or even clean water days after the storm hit.”[iii] Hurricane Maria soon followed Irma adding damage to the Caribbean islands with unprecedented damage to Puerto Rico.”

    Simon Baptist wrote:” With Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria battering the Caribbean and southern US states, I have been thinking about the implications of climate change for countries across the world. The cost of relief and mitigation from natural disasters is rising, but the displacement of large communities in the longer term represents an international crisis in the making. The UN estimates that an average of 22.5m people a year have been displaced by natural disasters since 2008, yet this remains a trickle compared with the flood of refugees and migrants that could result from the growing effects of global warming. Large concentrations of people in India, Bangladesh and China are at risk from rising water levels and floods, while a loss of agrarian land, acidification of oceans and extreme weather events pose risks to communities everywhere.” [iv]

    The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research studied the economic impact of hurricanes. They stated:” When hurricanes like Katrina in 2005 or Sandy in 2012 impact on highly populated regions they bring about tremendous damages. More than 50 percent of all weather-related economic losses on the globe are caused by damages due to tropical cyclones. Researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) now analyzed the magnitude of future hurricane losses in relation to economic growth. Showcasing the United States they found that financial losses per hurricane could triple by the end of the century in unmitigated climate change, while annual losses could on average rise by a factor of eight. Most importantly and contrary to prevalent opinion, they conclude that economic growth will not be able to counterbalance the increase in damage.”[v]

    [i] USA National Hurricane Center
    [ii] Molly Rubin. Atlantic Hurricanes 2017. Quartz Oct 7 2017
    [iii] Hurricane havoc, deep-ocean floats and Mexico’s fatal quake. The week in science: 8–14 September 2017. Nature. September 2017
    [iv] Simon Baptist. Irma & Harvey, a sign of things to come? The Economist Intelligence Unit. September 14th, 2017
    [v] Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Can we economically outgrow climate change damages? Not for hurricanes we can't August 16, 2016

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