Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Climate Change

By Erik Estrada, Contributing Writer


Hurricanes Maria and Lee in the Atlantic. Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Hurricanes Maria and Lee in the Atlantic. Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Irma is the first hurricane on record to ever reach a category level 5, the highest intensity a hurricane can reach, while still in the ocean. “Irma was the strongest Atlantic-basin hurricane ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea” said CNN’s Wayne Drash. This is being caused by climate change nurturing the conditions for hurricanes to intensify in areas they have not previously.

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey have been two of the most damaging hurricanes in North American history, and they happened less than two weeks apart. The last time a category 5 storm of this intensity caused this much damage was Hurricane Allen over fifty years ago, which reached maximum wind speeds of up to 190 miles per hour  and caused 1.24 billion dollars worth of damage. Irma peaked at speeds of 185 miles per hour for 37 hours, and Harvey, has required over 70 billion dollars in repairs so far.

Global warming is not what caused these violent windstorms. They were going to happen regardless of our carbon foot-print. However, global warming did pro-vide an environment for these hurricanes to thrive and do more damage that they would have normally on their own. Hurricanes are a natural occurrence, and hap-pen all over the Atlantic ocean, but never have they formed at such high categories in such short succession. According to Inside Climate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental news organization, “researchers found that storms reach Category 3 wind speeds nine hours faster than they did in the 1980s.”

Warm air in the oceans along with rising sea levels is what gives hurricanes such as Harvey and Irma the perfect conditions to intensify so quickly, which could be why there have been two of the most powerful hurricanes in such a short period of time. In the past century, our oceans have changed and “warmed on an average 1 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, and sea levels have risen about 7 inches during that time,” says CNN’s Wayne Drash.

Irregular weather disturbances occur-ring in the ocean are becoming more frequent with climate change warming the oceans and air. These elements are providing hurricanes an unnatural environment which allow them to reach levels so intense they cause damages costing over a hundred billion dollars in repairs.

Aside from the financial costs of these natural disasters, the displacement of mil-lions of US citizens is also a concern. Six days after Hurricane Maria tore through the US territory of Puerto Rico, “3.4 million U.S. citizens in the territory remain without adequate food, water and fuel.” said Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.

Most neighborhoods in Puerto Rico are flooded. Along with not having access to clean drinking water, cellphone towers have been destroyed leaving the area with  very limited contact with the outside world. Damages to commercial and industrial structures is also a rising concern as the question of what economic cost will be taken on the Puerto Rican economy after reconstruction begins. In addition to the damages done to industrial areas, farmlands will face future challenges providing for their local communities due to the destruction of crops and natural landscapes.

According to NASA’s last measurement in July of 2017, there is about 406.69 parts per million of Carbon Dioxide in our breathable air which is nearly 50% more than any other point in history. The correlation between rising temperatures and rising Power Dissipation Indexes (PDI) have been “based on statistical correlations”. PDI is a form of measuring the strength of a hurricane, and according to Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, evidence reports “PDI levels in recent years are higher than in the previous active Atlantic hurricane era in the 1950s and 60s.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also says that projections for the “late 21st century would imply very substantial increases in hurricane destructive potential–roughly a 300% increase in the PDI by 2,100.”