Hurricanes and Climate: How to Respond to Irma and Harvey

In the past few weeks we’ve seen two horrific storms batter the United States and many Caribbean Islands.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the millions impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  As the damage is still being felt, consider these astonishing statistics:

  • Harvey dropped 52 inches of rain on Cedar Bayou, TX, setting a new all-time record for U.S. rainfall.
  • Harvey was so strong that the storm continued for a record 117 hours after making landfall—the previous record was 54 hours.
  • Irma sustained wind speeds of 185 mph for a record 37 straight hours, shattering the previous mark set by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
  • Irma set a new record for the highest wind speed and lowest barometric pressure of any Atlantic hurricane.
  • This is the first time the United States has been hit by two category 4 hurricanes (the second highest level) in the same season.
  • Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimates the costs of Harvey between $150 – $180 billion, far exceeding Katrina ($108B) as the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.  While it’s too soon to tell about Irma, it’s highly likely the storm damage will land in the top 10 for costliest U.S. storms in history.

That we would see two of these storms within weeks of each other is unprecedented.

Or is it the new normal?

Hurricane strength is driven largely by two factors—relative humidity and ocean temperature.  Warmer air holds more moisture, thus providing more water for storms.  Likewise, 93% of the global heat content added to our planet since 1955 has been absorbed by the oceans.  Hurricanes, even strong ones, are nothing new.  But these two changes are supercharging our hurricanes—setting the stage for more Harveys, Irmas, and Katrinas in the future.

The relationship between climate change and hurricanes is much more nuanced than this, but we can certainly state that rising global temperatures play a role in the superstorms we have experienced this month.  If you want to learn more about the relationship between climate change and hurricanes, we are planning a webinar on the topic during the last week of September.  Look for an email soon with more information.

What can you do about hurricanes and climate change?

Option 1: Pray.  Millions of people have been impacted by these recent storms.  Homes and businesses have been destroyed; crops ruined; infrastructure devastated; and many lives have been lost.  In particular, several Caribbean islands have been particularly hard hit, including Barbuda, St. Maartin, the Turks and Caicos, and the Dominican Republic.  Prayers is powerful, and these people need it.

Option 2: Bring it up.  Don’t be afraid to make the connection.  Putting the two together isn’t politicizing a natural disaster; it’s using science and education to help avoid future disasters.  See this link for sample social media posts you can use.

Option 3: Help those who have been impacted by Harvey or Irma.  Many experts recommend giving monetary donations (rather than gift donations) to help in disaster response situations.  A monetary gift to a trusted organization is much more likely to directly benefit someone in need than clothing or stuffed animal donations, which have to be sorted, stored, and distributed—often costing money and creating more work than benefit.  Not sure where to give?  Check out the “Go Fund Me” Harvey and Irma pages, where you can give directly to on-the-ground, local efforts.

Option 4: ADVOCACY CORNER: Call your Member of Congress’s office and ask them to do something about Harvey and Irma by acting now to reduce our carbon emissions.  No need for a fancy speech.  Simply tell them that you’re concerned about the connection between climate change and hurricanes and then ask for one of the following:

  • Join the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (House only) – Hint: Make sure they’re not already on it before asking them to join.  If they’re a Democrat, ask them to find a Republican to join with them.
  • Advocate for the removal of tax subsidies for fossil fuel corporations in the next budget
  • Ask them to support a bill that puts a price on carbon-based fuels and then returns that revenue back to American households as a dividend

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