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Climate Change Is Accelerating

 

Disaster is most visible at the margins. As climate change accelerates, Puerto Rico functions as a harbinger of what’s to come, much like it and the rest of the Caribbean have throughout modern history. 

For me the indelible images of Maria are San Juan Mayor Cruz speaking in front of pallets of canned beans while Trump tweeted about NFL players, the junk food FEMA was distributing to survivors, endless video of the chef Jose Andres cooking and delivering meals, Trump tossing paper towels, and a VR Mark Zuckerberg high fiving while touring the destruction virtually

Hurricane Harvey a month earlier in Houston had its flooded, choppy highways. Irma in Miami a week and a half earlier turned the roads around the condos in downtown Miami into rivers and caused cranes to collapse

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a Category 4 it was still recovering from Hurricane Irma which passed less than 100 miles to the north as a Category 5 two weeks earlier. After Nate hit Mississippi in October, 2017 would be the first time since 2005 that four hurricanes made U.S. landfall in one hurricane season.

My mom grew up in South Florida, in her lifetime there was a major hurricane every generation, or about every 25 to 30 years. Donna hit in 1960. Andrew hit in 1992. But the 2004 and 2005 seasons seemed like the first indications of a new normal. Storms hit one after another. Then a decade of calm until 12 years later when Irma hit Miami in 2017. 

In September Bloomberg wrote about a woman living in the Florida Keys two years after Hurricane Irma in very similar circumstances to those in post-Maria Puerto Rico. In it they note, “By the end of the century, 13 million Americans will need to move just because of rising sea levels, at a cost of $1 million each.” Survivors in Florida’s panhandle are also struggling a year after Michael in 2018 became the first Category 5 to make U.S. landfall since Andrew in 1992, the fourth on record. This year Category 5 Dorian would come very close to hitting Florida from the Atlantic side.

In 2005, four days before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast as a monster Category 5 storm, it crossed South Florida as a Category 1. The destruction was mild, knocking out power to large parts of South Florida. 

Six Florida summer days without air conditioning is miserable. But when everyone is going through it, it doesn’t seem so bad. There are a lot of BBQs. Hurricane season is about the only time Floridians come together as neighbors. 

In 2004, when a record four major hurricanes hit the state, FEMA gave out vouchers for generators, so many Floridians were prepared for Katrina. Low-wattage needs were taken care of: food in refrigerators stayed fresh, lights turned on, you could turn on your TV to watch the news. Generators buzzed around the neighborhood as residents watched Katrina hit New Orleans.

Two months later Wilma hit and it was a different story. The destruction was far worse. Supplies were already short from Katrina, so hours-long lines were the norm. Whether you got supplies after waiting in line was pure chance. Thankfully, Wilma was followed by a cold front so you could open the windows and sleep in comfort for a few days. For three long weeks the streetlights on my block were dark. Cable and internet didn’t work. 

Our homeowners insurance from USAA gave us a check for $16,000 and said that though they were no longer writing new policies, we were grandfathered in. It was the first time my mom had ever had to file a windstorm claim since buying her first home in the ‘70s. Shortly after all the national insurers pulled out of the state.

Fourteen years later, in September 2019, I find myself helping my father-in-law look for condo insurance. As Dorian hovered over the Bahamas, GEICO told me they weren’t writing policies until the storm passed. When the storm finally did pass, GEICO said none of its partners would be writing new policies. 

Currently, the only national insurer writing homeowners insurance policies in Florida is State Farm. The rest are a slew of no-name private companies that only write policies in Florida, and Citizens, the state’s publicly owned insurer.

Citizens was established as the insurer of last resort when the insurance market collapsed after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Its rates are expensive and coverage is paltry. It’s now the largest insurer in the state and often the only option.

A recent study says, “thousands of Florida homes — valued at a combined $3.38 billion — were built in zones at risk for inundation by 2050, only 30 years from now…which is about the amount of time that’s on a mortgage if you bought a house today.”

Spencer Glendon, of the Woods Hole Research Center says, “No one should be lending for 30 years in most of Florida. During that time frame, insurance will disappear and terminal values — future resale income — will shrink. I tell my parents that it’s fine to rent in Florida, but it’s insane to own or to lend.” A report covering this story noted, “Insurability is the main issue. Thirty-year mortgages come with the condition that a borrower have insurance, which is renewed annually. But insurers can choose to stop offering insurance at any time, or make prices prohibitively expensive, which would cause a homeowner to violate their debt. Eventually, lenders would be forced to stop lending, causing prices to plummet.”

Full List of Atlantic Category 5 Hurricanes

The list to the left doesn’t include 2019 which had Dorian and Lorenzo, a rare extratropical hurricane that hit Ireland and the U.K. That made a record fourth year in a row the Atlantic had one Category 5. And only the fifth year on record with more than one. 

Climate change is accelerating and the disaster is heading towards the middle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monsters of the Atlantic The Basin s Category 5 Hurricanes The Weather Channel-


6 Comments

  1. I like how you were able to take this topic and relate it to your own personal experience. I also enjoy how you shifted the focus from Hurricane Maria to other hurricanes/natural disasters because it shows the severity of climate change. I also really appreciate your use of hyperlinks and media!

  2. I like how you demonstrate a lit about the other hurricane that hit before maria and how their affect to maria affect to the island. The date were very clear and correlate to the information you are giving. I also like how you lay out the Year of each hurricane. when hurricanes hit other part of the United States, they recovering go faster. thanks for using your mom as an example, it makes a more clear to understand.

  3. I like how you incorporated other hurricanes and gave a timeline of each. It was very informative, you not only talked about the recent years but those of the past as well. It’s very unfortunate that due to climate change and the increase in hurricanes that insurance companies are denying people insurance for their homes.

  4. This is a great post. I love how you explained your own experience. Your discussion on climate change is very very informative. It was a great reflection on climate change and how impactful it is on our environment.

  5. I have to agree that climate change is one of the main issues effecting the Caribbean and many countries in the global south like Puerto Rico. As we know the North is responsible for most the pollution introduced into our environments, but people in the South of the globe have to suffer the consequences due to being near the equator and areas where hurricanes form. As you mentioned the amount of storms will continue to increase and the things that’s most dangerous is the intensity of these storms which will also increase.

  6. This post is really great! The use of hyperlinks in every example you gave was informative but also very interesting. Adding your own personal experience made it more impactful because you could actually relate. I agree with your arguments about climate change too; it is certainly an issue that cannot be denied as having an impact in the South.

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