Last week’s record breaking Hurricane Irma had maximum winds of 185 mph with gust up to 225 mph and produced dangerous storm surges and heavy rain. As of this writing, after leaving a path of destruction through parts of the Caribbean, Irma's eye moved through the lower Florida Keys and was preparing to slam into Florida's southwest coast near Tampa. By Sunday morning, even though the storm was still located offshore, it’s effects have already caused more than 1.5 million homes and businesses to lose power and upwards of 100,000 people had taken refuge in shelters and residents across the state, from the southernmost tip of the peninsula to areas near Florida's northern border and were facing what officials were calling a "life threatening" storm surge. Worse, not only did Erma come right on the heals of Hurricane Harvey which has resulted in at least 30 deaths so far, and widespread flood damage, but on Irma’s heals is Hurricane Jose.
And what is the Trump administration’s strategy for dealing with climate change? – “It dosen’t exist!”.
Yet, that Climate Change contributes to the increasing number of more powerful storms and the havoc they wreck, is illustrated by the fact that according to Jeff Masters, Meteorology Director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground, warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma has been moving over water that was 1.8 degrees warmer than normal. In addition, that warmer water is connected to more powerful storms is illustrated by the fact that other storms have had winds as strong as Harvey and Irma, but they were located in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which usually have warmer waters. Therefore, as sea surface temperatures become warmer because of climate change, hurricanes can become more powerful and cause more damage and loss of life.
Also, as the world becomes warmer, more water evaporates from oceans (and other water bodies) into the air. Hurricanes tap into this moisture-enriched atmosphere and are capable of producing heavier precipitation, and this can result in more flooding when the hurricane approaches land. Finally, Sea-level rise caused by climate change can greatly increase the storm surge from hurricanes. With higher sea levels, storm surges are able to move further inland and can lead to more widespread and greater damage than they otherwise might.
So, while we’re writing our check for disaster relief for the suffering brought by the hurricanes in the Atlantic, and our hearts otherwise go out to those caught in line of these super storms, one cannot help but wonder why the Trump administration is cutting federal programs and funding that were supposed to help communities prepare for climate related impacts of hurricanes, storm surges, flooding and other threats to life and property? Especially, in light of the fact that, as storms get worse, federal resources for disaster recovery are being spread dangerously thin. Congress, for example, just approved of $8 billion in emergency disaster relief as a result of Hurricane Harvey alone. Also, FEMA and other federal emergency relief staff are all down in Texas dealing with the aftermath of Harvey and in Florida dealing with the onslaught of Irma, while other communities around the country are also in need of assistance to plan for storm surges, flooding and extreme erosion. I know from personal experience that it’s virtually impossible to find a FEMA official right now to assist with upcoming deadlines for Arctic communities, for whom super storms, storm surges, flooding and coastal erosion have been increasingly disastrous in recent years, to apply for Pre-Disaster Mitigation and Flood Management Assistance funding.
Ofcourse, FEMA and other federal relief agencies should be doing all they can right now, to assist those in need in Texas and Florida, but how much longer is the federal government going to be spending billions and over taxing already stretched thin, federal staff and resources to deal with the tragic aftermaths of devastating storms, while at the same time continuing to eliminating federal climate change adaption planning programs and funding for communities that are attempting to prepare for these very same storms before they strike?
These communities (particularly those in the Arctic) are also impacted by the current administration’s decision to ignore the root causes of climate change and therefore, one possible way to prevent more powerful storms in the future. The world's average global temperature is only one degree Celsius away from a potential climate catastrophe to which few regions would be more vulnerable than the Arctic. But there's time for a reversal of global warming, if all players in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, for example, keep their promises of limiting global warming to a rise of two degrees C. On the current course, however, it's inevitable that the global temperatures will increase, on average, by at least 1.3 C above pre-industrial levels….But, ofcourse, Trump has backed out of the Paris agreement too.
It may not be too late to turn this thing around but clearly, we have to stop the politics of climate denial first.