Stronger Hurricanes Ahead With More Damage Thanks to Climate Change

As Hurricane Dorian slowly makes its way up the U.S. Southeast coast coming dangerously close to the Carolinas, the storm is growing in sheer size, as is its toll on the people in affected areas, particularly residents of frontline communities, in parts of Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina that were battered in recent years by Hurricanes Florence, Michael, and Matthew.  As we reported yesterday, today’s hurricanes are bigger, stronger, and more destructive.  The numbers don’t lie — more than a third of the Category 5 hurricanes (13 total) have occurred in the last 20 years.  The damage is also greater because of sea-level rise – more than a foot in some areas like Hatteras, North Carolina, and because of significantly warmer ocean temperatures — as much as 3 degrees off the coast of North Carolina — that cause the hurricanes to do “unprecedented” things — like slow to a crawl and dump huge amounts of rainfall.

Why This Matters: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, scientists now expect a “doubling or more in the frequency of category 4 and 5 storms by the end of the century” with the U.S. East coast experiencing the largest increase.  Not only that, but now the population of the U.S. is more concentrated on the coast — approximately 40 percent of the US population—about 123 million people—live in coastal counties, and of those, 10 million people live at less than three feet above sea level.  That’s a lot of numbers, but what it all adds up to is more multi-billion-dollar storms.   What are the resulting impacts of that?  We could see significant increases in the number of climate “refugees” within the U.S. who move to other places when their affordable housing is destroyed by a hurricane — as was the case for Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Michael, and Maria.  What can we do?  Increase government funding to determine where we need climate reinforcements and for FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation grant program, as well as ensure that FEMA’s flood zone maps have the most up to date information on coastal sea-level rise projections.

Evacuations Take a Toll

Millions of people were told to evacuate coastal areas, particularly barrier islands in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and last night highways in coastal North Carolina flooded with the cars of people evacuating.

  • Military installations were among the locations subject to evacuation, including the Marine Corps’ Parris Island and Beaufort Air Station in North Carolina, as well as Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and Fort Stewart in Georgia.
  • But for some people, the cost of evacuation was too great so they had to stay put, according to NBC News.  One Florida resident told NBC “The only people on this block who left have the money to do it — a dentist, a pilot, an anesthesiologist. I’m a hairdresser and am not going to be able to work this week.”
  • In addition to travel costs and missed wages, for many, that means paying for food and shelter somewhere else.

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