Cleanup From Hurricane Irma Begins


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Tropical storm Irma is now in Georgia, threatening flooding in a wide part of the southeast. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

The hundred mile per hour wind is over, the storm surge is over, and, at least in Florida, the rain is over.  Now for the hard part.

Thousands of workers are out trying to restore power. Without it, there is no refrigeration for food, no air conditioning for the stifling heat and humidity, no street lights to regulate traffic. Many of the things we take for granted will not be available for quite a while for the people of Florida.

Those who evacuated will eventually return to find trees down, roofs damaged, windows blown in and resulting havoc from invading wind and rain, cars damaged or totaled, and much more.

Lack Of Recent Hurricanes Was, In Two Ways, A Curse

The fact that there hadn’t been a significant hurricane in Florida for ten years had effects on people and vegetation. Many Florida residents had never lived through a powerful hurricane. They were skeptical when they received evacuation orders.

Trees that are periodically thinned out by storms had grown unabated for ten years. Many of the weaker trees survived, so there was more vegetation to tumble onto power lines.

Jacksonville Surprised By Flooding

Jacksonville, Florida is experiencing its highest tides ever and consequent flooding. This was not forecast, but is now recognized to be the result of long-fetch, long-duration wind of high tropical storm strength. This case will be studied by meteorologists, and hopefully next time the forecast will be better.

Is This A New Era For Hurricanes?

Harvey, Irma, maybe Jose. Is it a periodic rise in hurricane numbers and intensity that will be judged as temporary? Or is it a permanent change in tropical circulations? Is it global warming?

There’s no question that hurricane numbers are correlated with El Niño/La Niña. It was not widely reported this summer, but conditions in the Pacific Ocean were characteristic of a mild La Niña — not enough to satisfy the official definition of NOAA, but perhaps enough to trigger a wild hurricane season.

This summer’s circulation over the Atlantic featured a lack of vertical wind shear. This condition, coupled with warm water (yes, we can blame global warming for that) created ideal conditions for hurricanes to grow to destructive power.

Will next year be the same? Ask me next August.

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