Top Ten Stories of 2020: A Record-Setting Hurricane Season

Iota’s eye was visible and surrounded by powerful thunderstorms.     Credit: NOAA/NESDIS, Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

This year, with THIRTY named storms, we shattered the record for the six months of hurricane season — exceeding the previous record by four.   There were so many storms that we ran out of names and went deep into the Greek alphabet, which is what happens when we use up all the typical ones.  The coast of Louisiana took the worst beating, with a 6 week period in which three hurricanes struck the coast, leaving homes and businesses destroyed and residents with no power or water during the heat of the summer, just as the pandemic was raging there.

Worse, what we are seeing now is different than before. Hurricanes are becoming more severe and destructive due to climate change.

  • First, storms are intensifying more rapidly, making preparation even more challenging. As we reported at the end of the season, three of this season’s storms, Iota, Delta, and Eta, intensified by 100mph in just 36 hours, which researchers say has only been recorded four times in the last 150 years.
  • Second, recently, scientists found that hurricanes are lingering longer and moving further inland and they are predicting that cities like Atlanta could begin to see the full effect of hurricanes in the coming years.
  • Third, coastal cities can expect to be hit multiple times per season in the future; this year, Louisiana was hit by 5 different storms.
  • Fourth, experts say that hurricane season is also beginning earlier, especially because bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico, are staying warmer year-round. And the season is lasting longer –this year we had the first hurricane season with two named storms in November.  We doubt it will be the last.

As a result of the increase in hurricanes and tropical storms, climate refugees are on the rise as well.  “Increased movements across borders are now more likely, including of people fleeing violence and persecution,” Giovanni Bassu, the regional representative for Central America and Cuba for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), explained in a statement in November.   In October, a new report described the scope of the problem.  There are already 20 million climate migrants worldwide, and it’s estimated that 1 billion people will be forced out of areas that cannot withstand the effects of climate change. And it’s not just abroad — the Urban Institute estimates more than 1.2 million Americans left their homes in 2018 for climate-related reasons, and that number has only increased over the past two years.  Our domestic climate refugee crisis should not only force the government to take action on mitigating climate change but should also compel the U.S. government to extend resources and other support to dealing with climate refugees around the world.  If we do, not only will we use our nation’s power around the globe to help people and rebuild our standing, but we will also make our own country and the world safer from a myriad of threats and conflicts directly and indirectly related to climate change.

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

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