Hurricane Season Effects

This is part two in a two part series that examines the causes and effects of hurricanes, including climate change, and their impacts.

The first part of this series examined the underlying causes of hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin and why 2010 is likely to be an intense hurricane season. Though climate change is not likely a major culprit, other factors are conspiring to possibly make this a very active season. This year there are two worrisome possibilities worth examining in more detail.

Haiti

Just because disasters get supplanted in the news doesn’t mean that they’re over. Haiti is still recovering in many ways from the earthquake in January of this year. Essential infrastructure is still lacking and major humanitarian problems still exist. This vulnerability means the effects of a climate shock like a hurricane could hamper rebuilding efforts. In addition, it could continue to keep Haiti in the poverty trap, a situation where a population is unable to pass over a threshold to a more stable economy due to external shocks such as disease, conflict, climate, and other natural disasters.

Unfortunately hurricane season forecast doesn’t bode well for Haiti. The warm phase the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is in not only affects hurricane intensity, but also tends to increase the number of hurricane tracks in the Caribbean. In other words, the chances of a hurricane striking Haiti are increased due to natural variability.

In addition, there’s a possibility for La Nina conditions to develop. While they aren’t the most likely conditions, there’s still a decent possibility it could happen. La Nina could not only lead to an increase in hurricanes, but it could also increase precipitation in the second half of Haiti’s rainy season.

There are some efforts underway to prepare for these possibilities including planting trees to limit erosion and landslides, and the development of maps for humanitarian agencies that overlay social and geographical vulnerabilities to better protect populations.  The success of these and other efforts will play a great role in determining the near and far-term future of Haiti’s economic and social health.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The other disaster that could be worsened for the worse by a strong hurricane season is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With untold amounts of oil on the surface of the ocean, it’s also possible that the oil spill could affect hurricanes.

There’s a very good chance that a hurricane would shift the flow and movement of the oil spill. If a hurricane were to move over the oil spill and make landfall, then oil would likely go with it. A storm surge with oil-polluted water could further devastate wetlands by inundating them with more oil. It could also push pollution further inland and into population centers depending on the storm track. Imagine dealing with damage from a strong storm surge, wind, and oil in a major population center like New Orleans. Not a pretty picture.

The effect the oil spill might have is a rather intriguing, though unwanted possibility. There’s a chance the oil spill could cause hurricanes to hiccup. Hurricanes thrive on warm, tropical water to fuel winds and rains.

Some scientists have posited that oil can act as a cap over the ocean.  Of course nobody would ever willingly spray oil over the ocean to test this theory.  But Deepwater Horizon could contribute to science by offering the only chance to test this theory.

If this theory is proven right, it could give more fuel to proponents of geoengineering, who would like to alter Earth’s systems to act as a barrier against climate change.  If geoengineering becomes more feasible in the public eye, less will likely be done to avert climate change.

Of course a hurricane could chop up the waters in the Gulf to the point that there’s not a cap of oil to prevent evaporation. Then we’re back to the unfortunate possibility of an oil storm surge making landfall or mixing of oil with deep ocean currents and moving out of the Gulf. Frankly, none of these possibilities is very exciting.

If you’d like to do more than watch these disasters unfold on TV, there are good ways to get involved. To help in Haiti, please revisit an earlier post with links to humanitarian organizations doing good work to help insulate communities against climate shocks. For Deepwater Horizon, you can to help by donating to any of the environmental organizations doing work in the Gulf, including some working on these and other climate change-related issues found here at Justmeans. Though this hurricane season is predicted to be active, it doesn’t have to be dangerous. Supporting efforts that reduce vulnerability will go a long ways towards that end.

Photo Credit: Flickr