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Storms of 2020 are in line with the year’s theme of extremes

27th Nov 2020
Storms of 2020 are in line with the year’s theme of extremes

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The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season was supposed to be over. The US has seen so many storms this year that they had to go over into the Greek alphabet to name them all. Subtropical Storm Theta marked #29, breaking the 2005 record of 27 named storms. Meanwhile, 180,000 people have had to flee from the devastation caused by Typhoon Vamco in the Philippines; just ten days after Typhoon Goni hit the same area.

Earlier in the year, meteorologists and climate scientists warned of an above-average storm season, and their predictions turned out to be correct. With all the other stressors of 2020, some residents who’ve had to deal with the storms feel it’s just “another blow in 2020.”

Experts have warned the world for years about stronger storms caused by a warming sea. While there is not a consensus about exactly how climate change will change storms, there is an agreement that they are changing. The New York Times reports that the five ways storms are changing include: higher winds, more rain, slower storms, wider-ranging storms, and more volatility.

According to National Geographic, “One reason there were so many storms this year was the formation of a La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific, which leads to fewer winds in the Atlantic that can stop storms from spinning up into hurricanes.”

There’s also the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which affects North Atlantic Ocean temperatures. Scientists are reluctant to point to specific storms as coming directly from climate change, but rather express a general uptick their intensity and subsequent damage.

Data also shows that storms are not losing as much force when making landfall. A recent study published in the journal Nature looked at 71 hurricanes that made landfall since 1967 and found that warmer ocean temperatures slow the decay of storms once they reach land. Since warm ocean water acts as fuel for storms, once they hit land they usually abate, but that process is now happening at a slower pace overall.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that “It [the study] found that in the 1960s, hurricanes declined two-thirds in wind strength within 17 hours of landfall. But now it generally takes 33 hours for storms to weaken that same degree.”

This year’s storm season has spurred talk of a change to building codes, as some coastal cities are required to build structures that can sustain up to a Category 3 hurricane (111-129 miles/hour) and that is showing not be strong enough.

Hurricane Katrina, the Category 5 hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005 sticks out in people’s minds because of the physical and humanitarian damage it caused, but the foreseeable future may decimate coastal cities to such a degree that it may be wiser to rebuild more inland since the seas are inevitably going to rise.

Steve Bowen, head of catastrophe insight at Aon Insurance, said that the financial toll of this year’s hurricane season, though high at $36 billion, could have been much worse because it mostly avoided densely populated areas.

While this may be of little comfort to those whose houses have already flooded, whose insurance rates have increased, and whose cars have been levelled by fallen trees amid intense storms, the potential for a US administration that gets back on track to tackle environmental issues offers hope.

The recent US election that hailed Joe Biden as the winner gave such hope to millions of Americans concerned about the changing climate’s effect on their lives. While Congress may be gridlocked after a likely continuation of Republicans controlling the Senate, CNN reported that President-elect Biden has already laid out 10 environmental policies he will put forth via executive action.

President Trump has dismantled swaths of environmental laws and defunded oversight agencies that have kept many laws that are still on the books from being enforced.

Storm intensity is one new normal of a warmer planet that has been widely-anticipated. While some people believe that it is too late to act on climate and that the increased intensity of natural disasters has already begun, young people especially want their leaders to act to curb carbon emissions.

The US’s departure from the Paris Climate Accord was a blow to those nations trying to take meaningful action to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and Biden’s commitment to rejoining it could galvanize nations to act in solidarity and commit to loftier goals. Even while the world adapts to more intense storm seasons, they can still act in a unified way to curb the worst outcomes.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall,
Grit Daily Staff Writer &
The Muslim News Environmental Columnist

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