A visit Thursday to parts of Southwest Florida flooded and windswept by Hurricane Irma — his third trip in less than three weeks to a storm disaster zone — did nothing to rid President Donald Trump of his climate-change skepticism.
“We’ve had bigger storms than this,” Trump said aboard Air Force One after departing Fort Myers. “We did have two horrific storms, epic storms. But if you go back into the ’30s and ’40s, and you go back to the ’teens, you’ll see storms that were very similar and even bigger.”
In fact, the most powerful storm on record to ever hit Florida was in 1935. And, as Floridians can attest, the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when eight storms landed in the state, were busier than 2017 has been so far.
However, some scientists have found that the effects of global warming — namely warmer oceans and hotter air — can intensify hurricane formation and result in higher rainfall, though just how much those factors might affect the storms remains uncertain. Higher sea levels can contribute to more devastating storm surge.
That Irma followed Hurricane Harvey, while Hurricanes Katia and Jose circled in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic Ocean, only renewed public-policy debates over whether combating climate change might prevent massive, dangerous storms.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, like Trump a Republican who generally avoids even the term “climate change,” told reporters after surveying storm damage in the Keys on Wednesday, “we clearly have things we have to improve” regarding the environment, acknowledging flooding and beach renourishment concerns.
“Clearly the environment changes all the time, and whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I couldn’t tell you which one it is,” he said. “But I can tell you this: We ought to solve problems.”
On Thursday, Scott joined Trump in Fort Myers and Naples. After making landfall in Cudjoe Key on Sunday, Irma arrived ashore for a second time on Marco Island, leaving parts of the region under water.
Trump reiterated his hope that Scott runs for the Senate in 2018.
“The job he’s done is incredible,” Trump said, adding that he’s unsure if Scott will challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. “At a certain point it ends for you, and we can’t let it end.”
Nelson spent Thursday handing out meals and checking on damage in North Florida, where Irma caused widespread flooding.
“This is not time for partisan politics,” Nelson said. “This is time to get out and help.”
Trump and his wife, first lady Melania Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence offered sandwiches and bananas to trailer-home residents in Naples Estates, a community for people 55 and older that was surrounded by piles of storm-torn trees, pieces of trailers and furniture.
“We’ve just gotten word on the Keys. That was just wiped out,” Trump said. “But we’re getting tremendous amounts of supplies, and medical, and a lot of other things out to the Keys.”
Trump praised Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy and told reporters that, “for the most part, the electric is going back on,” though millions of people remain in the dark. Power has been restored to 65 percent of the 6.7 million customers around the state who lost electricity during the storm, according to the governor’s office.
“We’re not done today,” Scott pledged.
Also joining Trump were Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, whose district stretches into Collier County. The president spent a little more than three hours in Florida, viewing flooded areas from Marine One and getting a briefing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He wore a white USA cap and a dark windbreaker as temperatures climbed into the 90s.
McClatchy Washington correspondent Alex Daugherty contributed to this report. Tampa Bay Times writer Alex Leary contributed from Washington, and Adam C. Smith from Fort Myers.