Hurricanes Harvey and Irma strike U.S.

By David Schwartz

Hurricane Harvey, a category four storm, devastated many areas of southeastern Texas, including Houston, causing major flooding on Aug 26. According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), Harvey accumulated a record 52 inches of rainfall during the peak of the storm.

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Hurricane Irma, a category five storm, continued to pass by Puerto Rico and Cuba before reaching Florida this past weekend as a category four. Irma, which eventually weakened to a tropical storm, caused massive flooding and wind damage in the Florida Keys, Miami, and Jacksonville, which suffered a five-foot storm surge and accumulated eight inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Tampa Bay, Orlando, and other areas experienced major power outages. About 2.3 million people were without power, according to the NWS. Officials announced to the public that several residents of Florida could be without power for another week.

On Sept. 11, Irma made its way up to Georgia and South Carolina. The city of Charleston suffered a 10-foot storm surge and accumulated six inches of rain, according to the NWS.

On its way to Puerto Rico, the category five storm hit the islands of St. Martin and Barbuda on Sept 7. The prime minister of Barbuda has already declared the island barely habitable.

In a press conference, Florida Governor Rick Scott urged citizens to evacuate immediately before Irma hit the mainland. “Do not sit and wait for this storm to come,” Scott warned. “Remember, we can rebuild your home. Not your life.”

Almost seven million people, a third of Florida’s population, were able to evacuate before the storm hit the area. So far, there are 38 reported deaths in the United States and 43 reported fatalities in the Caribbean, according to the NHC.

So far, there have been 74 confirmed fatalities due to the destruction caused by Harvey, according to the NWS. With catastrophic flooding taking over the city of Houston, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Brock Long told the public that the recovery from the storm would last many years.

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Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria, a category four storm, hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, which left the island 100 percent without power. The island of Dominica was greatly damaged by the storm the day before. So far, 18 deaths have been reported in the Carribean Islands, including 15 in Dominica.

Hurricanes of this frequency and magnitude often spark conversations about climate change, an important topic over the last several years in the scientific community.

“A disaster like this often brings awareness, but we can’t jump to conclusions,” said Christopher Etherington, assistant professor of Earth & Space Science at DCCC. “Climate and weather are two very different things. What we see in the short-term every day is weather. Climate is generally agreed upon an average of 30 years of data. Using these storms to describe climate is difficult to do.”

In June, President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord, an agreement between 196 nations to fight climate change. The purpose of the Accord is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit average global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius over the next century.

“There’s a lot of politics in play here,” Etherington said. “We are still in [Paris Accord] until 2020, right after the next presidential election. We cannot pull out yet.”

Currently, all the countries that have agreed to the Accord have until 2020 to submit a long-term plan.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Etherington said. “[Trump] doesn’t agree with the priorities of the agreement and if we had stayed in we likely wouldn’t be meeting these benchmarks because the current administration doesn’t feel these priorities are important.”

However, Etherington believes that Trump pulling out of the agreement could weaken the commitment from other countries involved with the Paris Accord and influence other international agreements going forward.

On Sept. 12, music manager Scooter Braun and Houston rapper Bun B organized a hurricane relief telethon for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, featuring Beyonce, Dave Matthews, Justin Timberlake, and Leonardo DiCaprio, which was featured on 15 channels and multiple social media outlets. The 44 million raised from the telethon went to many charities in support of hurricane relief, including United Way, ASPCA, and Habitat for Humanity.

The Salvation Army has activated all of its assets in response to the devastation caused by Harvey and Irma. They provided food, shelter, and emotional and spiritual care for the victims in the Caribbean and southern United States.

The Red Cross are also providing financial assistance in support of the victims of both storms. Donations are accepted on both of their websites.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but everybody’s going to come together,” said Scott after Irma struck Florida. “We’re going to get this state rebuilt.”

Contact David Schwartz at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu