By Luminita Cuna
Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria. And you can add Franklin, Gert, Katia, Lee, Nate, Ophelia. Ten hurricanes in ten weeks. This was the summer and fall of 2017.
Houston, Puerto Rico, Barbuda, Dominica, Antigua, St. Bart, St. Maarten. Places devastated, people with lost homes and livelihoods. Barbuda, the whole island, was completely destroyed and so was 95% of Dominica. What really stood out this year was the intensity, frequency and duration of these storms. And they signal what may be the new normal for the future.
Although hurricanes are very complex phenomena and the link between them and climate change is not a simple one to show, scientists agree that the consequences of our changing climate definitely made these powerful storms worse: warmer ocean surface both in temperature and in the number of days increased the intensity of the storms and rising sea levels affected the storm surge. There were other factors that came together to form literally, the perfect storms: the small difference in wind speed at the surface which kept the hurricanes in place for longer, the strong west African monsoons and a neutral El Niño.
The human factor contributed as well to the impact these storms had on human population, like the construction boom in Houston that destroyed the wetlands that were once a natural barrier to flood waters. An important ecosystem was destroyed, decreasing the resilience of the land and leaving the people of Houston vulnerable.
It is clear that resilience building is more necessary that ever in all the areas prone to such climate events. The Building Climate Change Resilient Communities class we explore how to build resilience in social and ecological systems, and will provide an insight in conducting resilience assessments of both ecosystems and communities.