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  • Writer's pictureBrice Claypoole

Takeaways from Hurricane Ian: The Price of Climate Change is too Steep



Hurricane Ian approaches Florida. The storm would kill around 100 people in the following days.

Photo Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Article by Brice Claypoole, age 14


The power has been out for a half hour, so I write by candlelight, I noted in my journal on Wednesday, September 28th from the house where we were sheltering in Bradenton, Florida. My camera says it’s 10:14 AM. The erratic winds are pulsing in and out, the trees upright one minute, contorted the next. The pool cage is covered in the green of shredded leaves. Hurricane Ian has intensified to a category 4 storm, but will now hit land a little way south of us instead of hitting us directly as had been forecasted. Still, the wind is very strong and getting worse. Pieces of trees lie everywhere.


Around 11:00 AM:


I’m horrified by the reports coming from a staticky, manually charged radio:

Massive storm… very intense… it is the size of the state of Florida… 40 mile eye… high end of category 4… confirmed near category 5… extremely destructive… this is a monster… 10 inches of rainfall expected… foot and a half of rainfall in some areas… up to 18-foot storm surge… winds up to 155 miles per hour… it continues to build… almost too late to leave. Roads are flooded…”


Ian had intensified rapidly just before landfall—the sixth hurricane to do so since 2017. While I listened to the terrifying news, I made my own observations of conditions outside:


It feels like the world is blowing away. The trees are bent to the breaking point, walls of water slam through the pool cage, debris fly like sediment in a raging river, and the ground looks like someone has dumped an Olympic swimming pool of pureed spinach over the yard.


At 3:21 PM, I wrote:


Our only source of information is the radio. Terrible reports are coming in from just south of us. “More than 680,000 people are without power,” notes the radio. Woah, they just changed it to 808,000 people. The radio reports “water getting dangerously close to the second floor of houses… pieces of houses floating down the street.” The broadcast went on to reference a claim of a shark swimming down the road.


By 3:34 PM, I was done with the hurricane:


It’s so dark and boring in here! I miss the outdoors!!!


With nothing else to do, I began writing again at 4:15 PM:


The hurricane intensifies still. Power remains off. Branches— Something crashed onto the roof. Dada rushed over and we checked the house for damage, but nothing was visible from inside. I returned to writing.

Branches are beginning to pile several deep on the ground and one has gone through the pool cage. The trees are going to be bare at this rate!


At 4:45 PM, I added,


A reporter is talking on the radio about the conditions down south. “The only word I can use for the situation in Fort Myers is ‘devastation.’ Boats have broken free of their moorings and are floating down the street. Forget the boats, an outreach center has broken free of its foundation and is floating down the street.” More objects are banging off our roof.


At 6:00 PM Hurricane Ian raged on as strong as ever. NPR, playing on the radio sitting next to me, was reporting that Ian was to break rainfall and storm surge records. It would be one of the most devastating storms in modern times, reaching the roofs of one-story structures.


***


On the morning of September 29, things were slightly better:


8:56 AM: The rain has stopped, but the wind is still nuts. Sirens are blaring outside. Dada finally got in contact with Grandma to tell her we are alright.


When we went out to search for food and internet later that morning, the damage was shocking.


A few trees are down and many have sustained major damage. A number of street and commercial signs are obliterated. Many areas lack power.


In the afternoon, we went to see how our house had weathered the storm. As we drove, yet more destruction met our eyes. Peeled up roofs; blown out fences; loose wires; massive fallen trees in yards and even roadways. Sarasota Bay was red-brown with runoff and would be for days to come.


4:53 PM: We’re just leaving after a visit to our house. Somehow, it didn’t flood, but the neighborhood trees are in a state of disaster. It looks like my young Necklacepod may soon die of its injuries. The other trees in our yard are also wounded, but not fatally.


The house on the other hand was alright.

When we checked up on one of the neighbors, he said, “we dodged a nuclear bomb.” He’d fled our area to Venice (near where the eye of the storm ended up hitting) and said he’d never seen anything like the destruction down there.


By September 30, though we still had no power and would not until well into the next day, we’d learned the full magnitude of Ian’s destruction. This piece is amended from an entry in my journal:


We’ve been hearing horrific stories of Ian’s carnage. Water rushing into houses—even leaking through lighting fixtures! The radio told the tale of a woman who was up to her neck in floodwater when she was rescued by her daughter who had come by canoe. People in the same neighborhood grabbed their pets and escaped via floating mattress. The governor mentioned people who had climbed onto their roofs to escape the floodwater and others, less lucky, who had climbed into their attics, called 911 in a panic as water rose around them, and haven’t been heard from since. Today NPR reported that unidentified bodies have been found in submerged houses.

***

Massive and deadly storms like Ian are becoming increasingly common as Earth’s climate changes. Several different factors contribute to different aspects of hurricane formation and intensification and a changing climate is throwing these factors out of whack. As the ocean (and Gulf of Mexico) warms, hurricanes are finding more fuel. Diminishing jet streams may be causing hurricanes to slow or even stall over communities for long periods of time. A changing climate may even be weakening wind shear, helping storms to become more intense.


The science is clear: this storm was not a one-off event, but part of a new era of climate-change fueled disasters, such as the devastating wildfires in the United States, South America, and Australia, record heat waves and droughts, and deadlier hurricanes. Irma, Harvey, Laura, Ida, Michael, and now Ian, all in just a few years. These events are taking lives, destabilizing communities, and destroying ecosystems.


Climate change is not a distant threat of warmer weather; it is a climactic disruption that is killing people today. Hurricane Ian’s up to 18-foot storm surge, record flooding, and more than 100mph winds killed about 100 people across Florida. People also died during other major hurricanes of the past few years, including 103 deaths caused directly or indirectly by Harvey, 107 by Ida, and nearly 3,000 by Maria.


Sights after Hurricane Ian also highlighted the economic damage climate change is inflicting. Entire neighborhoods in ruins. Shorelines covered in smashed boats. Houses without roofs and roofs without houses. Sanibel Island cut off by the collapse of the only bridge connecting it to the mainland. Ian may have caused up to 40 or even 50 billion dollars in damages.


Infrastructure and communities are being destroyed and people are dying. What else can you call climate change but a crisis? How can we accept politicians’ assurances that they plan to cut emissions by some far-too-late point in the future? Why do we still let corporations emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases to make a quick profit? How do we let misinformation campaigns command our actions to the point that we are still letting hundreds of people die in events like Ian?


If we wish to save future lives, to keep communities intact, we must halt the climate crisis. We can no longer depend on the promises of the governments and corporations who have caused—and continue to fuel—this crisis. Everyone needs to be part of the solution. How can you help? There are numerous ways:


1. Vote! It is essential to vote for politicians who make decisions based on facts—not conspiracy theories or donations from polluting industries. This November, make sure you are voting for candidates who intend to put the climate first.

2. Support climate-friendly policies and voice your opposition to detrimental ones. Hold lawmakers accountable to their job of protecting the people. Policies that fuel super-hurricanes with greenhouse gas emissions are unacceptable. Email or call lawmakers to tell them what you think of climate related issues and policies.

3. Cut your emissions. Using less power by turning off lights or turning up the AC, switching to an electric car, or buying solar panels are great first steps!

4. You can even join a local environmental non-profit or independently lobby for climate action!

***

August 2: The power is back on and we’re moving back into our house today. We got so lucky with Ian! But what about next year… or the next… or the next? As hurricanes intensify, how long will it be until Sarasota does take a direct hit? How long until Ian is just your average intensity hurricane? Unless the climate crisis is halted, my future is very uncertain—unless the climate crisis is halted, the future of Homo sapiens is very uncertain.


So let’s fix this crisis before the next super-hurricane destroys yet more communities and takes yet more lives. If everyone—including you—helps out, we can create a brighter future.

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Citations:


Time: Yes, Climate Change Is Making Storms Like Hurricane Ian Worse. https://time.com/6218075/hurricane-ian-climate-change-impact/

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Time: Death Toll Rises to 47 after Hurricane Ian. Nearly 1 Million Homes Still Remain Without Power. https://time.com/6219134/hurricane-ian-death-toll-power-outages/

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Texas Public Radio: How climate change is making storms such as Hurricane Ian stronger. https://www.tpr.org/environment/2022-09-29/how-climate-change-is-making-storms-such-as-hurricane-ian-stronger

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NPR: In the wake of Hurricane Ian's destruction, Floridians are picking up the pieces. https://www.npr.org/2022/10/01/1126280620/hurricane-ian-updates-florida-bonita-springs

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The Guardian: Hurricane Ian: ‘catastrophic’ damage in Florida as storm heads to South Carolina. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/29/florida-rescue-crews-search-residents-trapped-hurricane-ian-floods

The Guardian: Hurricane Ian: Residents Return to Battered Homes as Death Toll Rises. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/oct/06/hurricane-ian-florida-ron-desantis-residents-return-sanibel-captiva-pine-island

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The Washington Post: How climate change is rapidly fueling super hurricanes. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2022/09/29/ian-hurricane-rapid-intensification-climate/

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The New York Times: Hurricane Ian’s Devastation Shows the Challenge of Pricing Climate Risk. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/29/business/hurricane-ian-damage-risk.html

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The New York Times: Nearly a Year After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Revises Death Toll to 2,975. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/us/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-deaths.html

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The Wall Street Journal: Florida Assesses the Damage. https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/hurricane-ian-florida-updates-live-2022-09-29

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The Wall Street Journal: Images of Hurricane Ian’s ‘Catastrophic’ Damage in Florida. https://www.wsj.com/articles/images-of-hurricane-ians-catastrophic-damage-in-florida-11664495627

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National Hurricane Center: National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Harvey. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL092017_Harvey.pdf

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National Hurricane Center: National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Ida. https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL092021_Ida.pdf

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Seneviratne, S.I., X. Zhang, M. Adnan, W. Badi, C. Dereczynski, A. Di Luca, S. Ghosh, I. Iskandar, J. Kossin, S. Lewis, F. Otto, I. Pinto, M. Satoh, S.M. Vicente-Serrano, M. Wehner, and B. Zhou, 2021: Weather and Climate Extreme Events in a Changing Climate. In Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1513–1766, doi: 10.1017/9781009157896.013

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