Extreme Weather and Hurricanes

Hurricane Harvey and other extreme weather events around the globe are made worse by climate change.

We urge you to keep sending letters to your local media explaining how hurricanes like Harvey (and now Irma) are not isolated incidents and are directly connected to climate change. Send a letter to the editor or an op-ed to help connect the dots between Harvey, climate change, and the critical need for climate action.

The path of destruction that Hurricane Harvey left last week will take years and billions of dollars to recover from. Over six million people are affected by the severe flooding, have damaged homes, or live in communities where toxic fumes from damaged refineries and factories make it dangerous to inhale.

Yet the public remains largely unaware of the health risks and impacts of climate change. This storm is a warning for us all, and an opportunity to have a public discussion about the root causes of these escalating weather events and their complex impacts on vulnerable communities.

A letter to the editor (150-200 words) is a simple way for you to take action and spark a critical public discussion.  Op-eds (600-800 words) are not much harder and get more attention.  If possible, to refer to a personal or local angle; the appeal for the local paper will be greater.  If you would like our help getting in touch with media outlets or help with writing your letter, please feel free to contact us with your op-ed or letter outline at info@ms2ch.org


Climate Change and Hurricane Harvey:

  • Hurricane Harvey is still ravaging Texas and Louisiana, and communities need our help – both with recovery and to prevent this devastation from happening again. Climate change is making extreme weather like hurricanes more frequent and more severe, and we must stop the fossil fuel industry’s expansion and cut carbon pollution to keep it from getting worse.
  • Climate change is causing sea-level rise, which worsens storm surges. Increased air temperatures lead to greater rainfall.  Higher water temperatures boost the energy contained in storms and make storms more severe. The Gulf of Mexico is currently up to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average, which allowed Harvey to jump to a Category 4 hurricane very quickly just hours before making landfall – an unprecedented event in decades of record keeping.
  • The flooding is expected to get worse, more people are in need of shelter and services, damaged oil refineries are spewing toxic fumes into communities, and public health is at risk.

SAMPLE Op-Ed by a physician:

Climate Change and Hurricanes

While hurricanes are not caused by climate change, our changing climate threatens to make these storms larger, more dangerous and more impactful.  Hurricanes Harvey and Irma provided back to back direct strikes on the US mainland this summer and illustrate the risks we face by not tackling the now urgent problem of climate change.  The threat of climate change is not far off and relegated to other places we can see by looking at Houston or Tampa.  The threat is real, it is here and it will continue to affect us in America lest we take action.

Warming temperatures are hurricane fuel.  While climate change may not create storms or make them more frequent, warmer temperatures make them more powerful.  Hurricane Irma was the strongest storm everrecorded in the Atlantic, carrying winds not typically seen outside the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean.  Surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean were a full 1°C warmer than average, which served to feed Irma’s power (it set a record for most consecutive hours as a Category 5 storm before coming ashore!).  One way to think of this is in terms of energy.  In this way, Irma was 10 times more powerful than Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (another Atlantic storm which hit Florida with devastating results).  In terms of power, Irma was on par with Katrina in 2005 (which came from warmer waters in the Gulf and was obviously catastrophic to the city of New Orleans).  As of today, we are still totaling the costs of Irma but it should be noted that more than 6 million Floridian were under a mandatory evacuation and Irma at one point, covered the entire state of Florida in hurricane strength winds.   The cost will no doubt be in the billions.

Let us also consider Hurricane Harvey which came ashore in Texas on August 25th as a Category 4 storm.  Packing winds that peaked at 130mph, Harvey’s more severe damage came in the form of rain.  As the storm stalled over costal Texas, it sat in the Houston area (America’s 4th largest city) and dumped more than 10 inches of rain per day in some areas, making it the single wettest tropical storm to ever hit the continental United States.  The extensive flooding seen in this huge city displaced 30,000 people and resulted in 17,000 rescues.  To date, we have lost 71 Americans in this storm which will further cost us more than $70 billion.  Beyond this, the storm’s toll will be felt for many years.  Consider the psychiatric stress and anxiety associated with being unable to return home.  Increased exposure to mold and respiratory problems will likely take hold in the coming weeks as residents return to flood homes.  Power outages disrupt daily living and have caused failures (and explosions) of plants and industrial operations.  Furthermore, the flood has resulted in the dissemination of toxic chemicals being pushed around the city exposing citizens to further health risks.  Jim Blackburn, a profession of environmental law in Houston has written extensively about urban sprawl, run off and the need to tackle climate change to lessen the impact of similar future events in Houston (http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/348429-opinion-Rebuilding-Houston-to-weather-the-next-storm).

As a physician, I am deeply troubled by the health effects from these storms.  Homelessness, flooding deaths, lost wages, anxiety, mold and asthma attacks, chemical exposures and more are clear threats to human health and life.  These concerns are all magnified by a changing climate which drives these storms to be larger.  Surely the cost of speeding the current transition to clean, renewable energy is far, far less than the cost of these storms in terms of lost life and destruction.  I believe that positive action on climate change can have a direct impact on the health of Americans.