In the midst of hurricane season, with Tropical Storm Isaac headed in our direction, it’s a good time to take note of how hurricane intensity has shifted in the last several decades.
In 1975, most hurricanes topped out at a Category 1 or 2, with about 20 percent building to a Category 4 or 5. But today, the proportion of devastating Category 4 or 5 hurricanes has roughly doubled. They are now about as common as the easier-to-deal-with Category 1 or 2 storms. And stronger storms kill more people and devastate coastal communities.
So, what’s behind this increase in severe hurricanes? While the reasons behind the uptick in the past 35 years is unsettled, what we do know is that the global warming caused by our carbon-pollution-loaded atmosphere is creating a broad trend of heavier rains, droughts and heat waves and the potential for more erratic and severe extreme weather events. Global warming is the climate on steroids. And, scientists believe this extreme weather trend will increase in severity and volatility going forward.
The good news is that there are steps we can take to help make our communities safer from the increasing number and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes.
Use technology to predict flooding, and then plan for it: The Nature Conservancy is sharing our coastal resilience tool with at-risk coastal states to reveal potential problems from flooding and storm surges and working with local communities to use nature to protect homes, people and infrastructure. And, we are sharing this science at the highest levels of national and international disaster prevention agencies.
Use nature to help protect us: Billions of dollars are being spent at all levels of government to reduce risks to coastal cities and towns. But the answer doesn’t lie solely with sea walls and other concrete “gray” solutions. Nature — oyster and coral reefs, salt marshes, mangroves and more — can provide cost effective protection to our communities by absorbing the impacts from storms and rising waters.
Through our extensive coastal restoration work, The Nature Conservancy is demonstrating how nature can help communities adapt to today’s — and tomorrow’s — impacts, and showing the places where green solutions can be used in place of the gray ones. And we need your help!
Speak up to your federal legislators in support of continuing funding for NOAA’s Coastal Restoration Program. This program benefits all of us.
Frank Lowenstein, climate adaptation strategy leader, The Nature Conservancy, Altamonte Springs