Stronger for Longer

Hurricanes are giant spiralled storms formed in the Atlantic Ocean with windspeeds up to 119 kph or more and are associated with exorbitant amounts of rainfall and thunderstorms. Over the past few years the Atlantic Hurricane Season (between June and November) sees increasing tropical storm formations, followed by more destructive and record-breaking hurricanes. In 2017, Hurricane Irma was documented as the most powerful hurricane on record, only to be surpassed two years later by Hurricane Dorian. 

More recently, Nicaragua and Honduras have suffered both human and infrastructural losses as a result of the recent Category Four storm Eta and just two weeks later are bracing themselves for another Category Four, Hurricane Iota. Evidence shows that these weather patterns are not only becoming more frequent but also more destructive. Why? One paper recently published in Nature suggests that climate change may be the answer. 

Usually, as a hurricane hits land, much of the energy it carries is dissipated; thus, restricting much of its damage to coastal areas. However, as sea surface temperatures increase, the amount of energy and moisture available as fuel for these catastrophic storms also increases. As such, these hurricanes decay at a much slower rate and can make their way further inland. The Nature paper continues to exemplify this trend by observing that in the late 1960s a typical hurricane lost about 75 per cent of its intensity in the first day past landfall. Now, the corresponding decay is only about 50 per cent. The authors of this paper, Dr Lin Li and Dr Chakraborty go on to conclude with a foreboding observation, as the global temperatures keep on rising, the destruction caused by hurricanes will only increase further inland. 

Growing up in the north-east Caribbean, most of my life I had been free from the experience of living through catastrophic weather events that took place every hurricane season. However, as the summers in my country got hotter, unfortunately, so did our waters and the likelihood of being affected by a Category 4 Hurricane or above increased. After surviving Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, it became difficult not to notice how the calm, sunny summers of my childhood had evolved into constantly being on guard for the now expected storm and floods brought on by this new hurricane trend. 

As the number of Atlantic storms reaches its highest ever at 30 named hurricanes and tropical storms this year alone, one can only think of the devastating impacts these natural weather phenomena have had on the lives of those impacted. With a yearly trend of increasing power and stay of storms, therein lies the risk of increasing loss of life, property and safety of those in the Americas. 


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Mariam Jallow

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September 2021
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