Global Warning: How climate change is impacting global weather
As the low-lying islands of the Caribbean recover from the devastating affects of Hurricane Irma, Donna Eastlake looks at the increasing severity and regularity of these tropical storms
Hurricane Irma has caused widespread devastation across the Caribbean and southern Florida. Her destructive path reduced buildings to rubble, sunk and capsized yachts, and left many dead.
Worst hit were the small island of Barbuda, said to be ‘barely habitable’, and Sint Maarten, which officials warn has been almost completely destroyed.
Irma, a category five hurricane, battered the northern Caribbean islands with 295km/h (185mph) winds, torrential rain and storm surges, resulting in her being declared the most powerful storm ever to be recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
‘It’s absolute devastation’ said Prime Minister, Gaston Browne of Barbuda, after flying over the island, which had been home to approximately 1,600 people. ‘The island is literally under water.’
A hugely popular cruising destination, many yachts have been destroyed, as the storm cradles capable of withstanding hurricane force winds were limited, leaving many yachts to endure the full force of the storm on props, or in the water. Sunsail and The Moorings, charter companies, which keep their yachts in a hurricane hole on the south coast of Tortola, have said their fleets sustained extensive damage. Sunsail commented: ‘Our thoughts go out to all of those affected by Hurricane Irma. This is an unprecedented storm, and we are thankful for the planning and tremendous effort of our operations teams in multiple locations to secure our guests and team members, which is our highest priority.’
The extraordinary power and speed of Hurricane Irma is extremely worrying, however it’s her arrival so swiftly after the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, which is cause for serious concern, and points towards the affects of global warming. Scientists have stated that warming oceans are likely to make such eventful hurricane seasons increasingly common in the coming decades.
‘Unfortunately, the physicality is very clear: Hurricanes get their destructive energy from the warmth of the ocean, and the region’s water temperatures are super elevated’ said Anders Levermann, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. And The World Meteorological Organization noted that previous hurricane, Harvey, intensified after crossing over unusually warm waters, about 3.6 degrees above average, in the western Gulf of Mexico.
Since 1982, there have been 222 hurricanes in the Atlantic, 13 of which have been so powerful they became Category 5 storms and many of those storms came during periods of warmer ocean temperatures, such as in 2005, when there were four such powerful hurricanes, including Katrina and Rita.
We will have to wait to see how the increasing global temperatures affect weather systems across the globe and how those systems impact upon our lives, but the message from the Cruising Association is: ‘Whether hurricanes are increasing in severity or frequency is hard to say; certainly they seem to have increased compared to the last 50 years but it’s very uncertain that they are worse now than they were 150 years ago. So the key message to yachtsmen is to remember that they have always been catastrophic and lives and boats can be lost.
‘No man-made structures or ports can provide shelter – look at Sint Maarten. We humans have become too sure of our supremacy over nature and yachtsmen are not immune. Sailors everywhere, particularly in the Caribbean, should consider very carefully where they leave their boats. In the Caribbean anywhere north of Tobago over the months of June through November is a gamble.’
The key message in the wake of this devastation is that we must support the region. Dream Yacht Charter, one of the companies affected summed up this sentiment with the following statement: ‘The Caribbean economy depends on tourism and the islands need our support now more than ever.’
How to help
Sail Aid UK: facebook.com/sailaiduk
British Virgin Islands Relief Fund: justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bvi-touristboardhurricaneirma
Global Giving: globalgiving.org
Virgin Unite: virgin.com/unite/bvi-community-support-appeal