Over the past month, the Gulf of Mexico has been wrecked by major hurricanes including Irma, which set records for its longevity at a peak wind speed of 185 mph. The other hurricane Harvey caused major flooding across Texas. Less talked about was hurricane Katia, which slammed the Mexican coast last Saturday and Jose, which is currently making its way through the Atlantic off the east coast of the US. These four storms have catapulted this hurricane season into the record books, causing destruction on a scale not seen in years.
Harvey, which was the first major storm to hit the U.S. since 2005, dumped over 50 inches of rain as it stalled out over the Texas gulf coast. Winds of over 130 mph caused extensive damage at landfall, while flooding wreaked havoc on both Houston and large swathes of rural Texas and Louisiana. An estimated 185,000 houses were damaged or destroyed. In the end, the death toll approached 70, even as response efforts involved well over 20,000 national guardsmen.
This past Friday, Katia hit the Mexican coast as a category one storm. It caused several deaths and compounded a national crisis caused by a major earthquake on the southern pacific coast which killed over 60 people last week. Particularly worrisome, are the effects of the storm’s rain on hillsides, which have been loosened by the quake. The twin disasters, along with the weak response to them from the White House, have the Mexican government to withdraw any offer of aid for storm battered Texas at a time when tensions simmer between the US and its southern neighbor.
Even as Katia was making landfall in Mexico, Irma roared over Cuba as a category five storm and barreled into southern Florida late this weekend. Irma, the most powerful storm to hit Florida in decades, has caused extensive damage and left an estimated fifteen million people without power across the south east. Additionally, over twenty people lost their lives. While Irma has subsided to a tropical storm over the southeast, Jose is now sitting in the Atlantic and, though models predict it will not make landfall, it is likely to cause rough seas at a time when the coast of states such as Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas have been weakened by Irma.
Taken together, these storms mark a disturbing trend towards larger, more powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic. Many climate scientists point to climate change as the underlying cause of worsening weather pattern and predict that, while storm frequency will drop, the intensity of hurricanes is likely to increase. As the atmosphere warms it will be able to hold more moisture, increasing the likelihood of major storms like Harvey and Irma. With reconstruction costs from Harvey alone expected to total well over $125 billion, this promises to be an expensive trend. However, the true cost of such storms comes in the form of the hundreds of lives lost and disrupted.