Category Archives: Sea Level Rise

Hurricane MICHAEL: the aftermath!

Hurricane MICHAEL ran out of ocean before it could intensify any farther, but still managed to make landfall as the strongest category 4 hurricane, borderline with a cat 5 storm, in the Florida Panhandle region on 10 October 2018.

Satellite view (NOAA) of Hurricane Michael just before making landfall in the Florida Panhandle on 10 October 2018

The rapid intensification Michael underwent as it traversed the Gulf of Mexico in its final approach toward Florida is not that unusual. We have in fact witnessed similar occurrences with other storms reaching the northern Gulf. The shape and bathymetry of the Gulf, the so-called “loop current” that swishes around the Gulf before feeding the gulfstream over the Atlantic, and the fact that surface waters in the basin were rather warm at about 30+ Celsius, were all contributors to such rapid intensification.

What is somewhat unusual is that  Hurricane Michael decayed in intensity as expected after landfall and moving inland, but remained at tropical storm strength despite being deprived of its main source of energy, the warm surface waters of the Gulf, and being at times more than 360 kilometers (~225 miles) from the ocean, managing to travel some 1200 kilometers (750 miles) overland before exiting back over the Atlantic and re-strengthening. It is clear the tropical cyclone derived enough energy from the saturated atmosphere and waterlogged ground to remain a tropical storm during this trek over land. Amazing indeed, and something to explore by those who study cyclogenesis, and the exacerbating effects of global warming on hydro-meteorological hazards.

Projected track of Hurricane Michael (courtesy of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory) as on 10/10/2018

The headlines and media coverage following the impact of Michael, as expected, are full of photos showing the destruction and damage caused by Michael as well as articles describing and/or questioning what worked and what did not, and what to expect in the future.

There is plenty of topics and material to write about in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. At the moment what is most important, in my opinion, is to treat this event as an opportunity to learn from the survivors, meaning both the human beings and the buildings and infrastructure that managed to remain intact and functional.  What we empirically learn from studying these surviving buildings can provide invaluable lessons to guide future decisions regarding rebuilding efforts, building codes, and hazard mitigation solutions to prevent a repeat of the level of damage next time a hurricane comes calling on the affected region, or elsewhere.

Relative to the above please read the article by Daniel Cusick, published by EE News’ Climate Wire featuring an interview with yours truly and others about Hurricane Michael and its consequences on Mexico Beach, which is being called “ground zero” because of the level of damage and destruction it suffered.

You can get to the article by using the following URL:

https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060102515

There is a lot to learn and even more to write and talk about when it comes to Hurricane Michael.

NINE YEARS AGO – HURRICANE WILMA!

Nine years ago, on this 21 October 2014, a tropical cyclone for the record books, a strong category 4 hurricane WILMA came over the island of Cozumel in its final approach toward the region of Cancun and the northeastern portion of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 22 October 2005 showing category 4 Hurricane Wilma over the Cancun region in Mexico, before it tracked across the Gulf to hit Florida on 24 October 2005
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 22 October 2005 showing category 4 Hurricane Wilma over the Cancun region in Mexico, before it tracked across the Gulf to hit Florida on 24 October 2005

I assessed and documented damage caused by the passage of Wilma over the region, first in a study commissioned by the Quintana Roo State Government completed in early 2006 and then in my book “Paraiso Protegido: Hacia una cultura de mitigacion” (ISBN 978-607-401-556-0) published in February 2012. Additional discussion of the consequences of this hazard event and what we can do to mitigate future hurricane impacts will be the focus of my upcoming book “Hurricane Mitigation for the built environment”, which is scheduled to the see the public light in 2015.

Nine years! This is how long it has been since we have had a land falling hurricane anywhere in Florida. It is a long time and I already detect the influence of ‘hurricane amnesia’ on many fronts, from casual conversations to the actions of public officials regarding given projects that are given green light to proceed without considering potential consequences from future impacts, from recurring hurricanes, or the benefits of incorporating hurricane mitigation measures in the design criteria for such  proposed new projects.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 21 October 2014 showing a storm system over the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, which is moving in the general direction of Florida, and is expected to disturb our weather over the next few days
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 21 October 2014 showing a storm system over the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, which is moving in the general direction of Florida, and is expected to disturb our weather over the next few days

Today 21 October 2014 the Gulf of Mexico present rather warm waters and a large system of disturbed weather over the Yucatan peninsula exhibiting some cyclonic tendencies, which appears to be moving in the direction of Florida following a path not unlike the one followed by hurricane Wilma in 2005 as it stroke Florida from the west before traversing our peninsula on 24 October 2005. The official cost of damage figure from the impact of Wilma in Florida is $21.0 billion [in 2005 U.S. Dollars], but there are unofficial estimates reaching as high as $29.0 billion. And Wilma was a tropical cyclone that had been almost dismissively categorized as it approached Florida as “just a category 1 storm” by a weather forecaster on a local TV station.

Whether the amount of physical damage caused by Wilma was $29.0 or only $21.0 billion, it would appear to me as an exorbitant amount caused by a minor hurricane. Especially when considering Florida had endured four land-falling storms in 2004, and we had seen the disaster wrought by hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi after brushing over South Florida in August 2005. Not to mention the fact that  the media had provided excellent coverage of the monster storm that Wilma became in record time as it barreled from the central Caribbean toward the Yucatan peninsula in late October 2005. We had all seen or read about the damage Wilma caused in Cancun, Cozumel, the Maya Riviera and on the resort island of ‘Isla Mujeres’,  just before it proceeded to  turn in the direction of Florida. It is indeed puzzling to see how quickly we all forgot the hits received in 2004 and the graphic displays of damage and human suffering from Katrina, and from Wilma before it headed our way. Even more puzzling is to hear how many of us were surprised by the amount of damage hurricane Wilma left in South Florida.

Satellite image (NOAA) taken with the RGB filter in the afternoon of  20 October 2005 showing the cell of disturbed weather over the Bay of Campeche, extreme southwestern Gulf of Mexico, as it beginds to track generally east to east-northeast over the Yucatan peninsula and toward Florida
Satellite image (NOAA) taken with the RGB filter in the afternoon of 20 October 2005 showing the cell of disturbed weather over the Bay of Campeche, extreme southwestern Gulf of Mexico, as it begins to track generally east to east-northeast over the Yucatan peninsula and toward Florida

We ignore the signals of Nature at our own risk. Today’s storm system moving over the Yucatan in our general direction may be considered weak or disorganized, but it is large and it will generate storms, and rain, and wind, and surge, and potentially tornadoes as well, and lightning, and flying debris as it comes over our communities. So the potential for damage and for disruption of our daily lives is there. A signal from Nature, a reminder nine years later that we are vulnerable. If there are doubts about this, consider Bermuda and just a couple of days ago they got hit by tropical cyclones FAY and GONZALO in the span of just five days, such a small target in the middle of the Atlantic!

This satellite image (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory) captures the eye of hurricane GONZALO still partially over the northeastern portion of the Main island, in a tremendous feat of marksmanship by Mother Nature!
This satellite image (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory) captures the eye of hurricane GONZALO still partially over the northeastern portion of the Main island, in a tremendous feat of marksmanship by Mother Nature!

Nine years. A long time. But we must remain vigilant at all times. We must be prepared and constantly engage in the practice of mitigation to protect our lives, and property, and our communities and way of life for the next time that will surely come one day.

Nine years, a long time, in which our coastal communities have become even more vulnerable because the increase in population and growth of our urban built environment have placed more people and more property at risk. We are also more vulnerable because the inexorable march of sea level rise has relentlessly increased the potential for damage from the impact of storm surge and breaking waves when that next time comes knocking.

Nine years are a blink of the eye in Mother Nature’s terms. Will it be nine days, nine weeks, next year, or another nine years before our turn comes again to interact with a hurricane? Will we be again surprised by the amount of damage and the power of Nature? Will we be prepared and ready? And, until then will we practice mitigation to ensure that we indeed are prepared and ready? No one can predict when the next one will hit us, but it is up to each and all of us to determine what kind of outcome we will have when that next one  takes place!