Category Archives: Sea Level Rise

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!

PEER VOICES: A conversation with Caroline Lewis of The CLEO Institute!

PEER VOICES: A Conversation with Caroline Lewis – 21 July 2014

A CONVERSATION WITH CAROLINE LEWIS, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CLEO INSTITUTE A NON-FOR-PROFIT ORGANIZATION BASED IN FLORIDA¹

Greetings, I am Ricardo Alvarez and I welcome you to MITIGAT.com ².

Today is Monday the 21st day of July 2014 and we have the pleasure of launching ‘PEER VOICES’, a new segment of MITIGAT.com where we plan to interview leaders, subject-matter experts and concerned members of humanity who have made or are trying to make a difference for the benefit of our communities, and the world, by addressing issues of critical importance.

Today on this warm and sunny, but soon to be muggy and stormy day in South Florida, we are graced by the presence of our good friend Caroline Lewis, an education strategist who builds capacity, promotes innovation and inspires leadership in individuals and institutions. Caroline, our first-ever guest in PEER VOICES is the founder and executive director of The CLEO Institute.

Caroline Lewis
Caroline Lewis

MITIGAT.com:       Good morning, Caroline! Welcome to MITIGAT.com!
I always enjoy meeting and having a conversation with you, because I usually learn a lot from you, and I always end up feeling motivated and ready to tackle the big challenges in front of us.
This conversation will be different; you are the first person I interview for the PEER VOICES section of Mitigat.com. So, in a sense you are a guinea pig participating in an experiment.

Are you ready?

Caroline:      VERY ready. Thanks for this opportunity, Ricardo, and for YOUR good work


For more, go to PEER VOICES ..on the MENU above..