Posted by: coastlinesproject | July 22, 2017

The 2017 Hurricane Season.

The 2017 Hurricane Season

June 1, 2017


The same day Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords was also the official start of the 2017 hurricane season. The National Weather Service had forecast that it would be a particularly active season with 5 to 9 hurricanes, 11 to 17 named storms, and 2 to 4 major hurricanes. Satellite imagery had shown that El Nino had ceased in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean would be hotter than usual, creating ideal conditions for major hurricanes.


But there was another reason the 2017 hurricane season would be so dangerous. In addition to pulling out of the Climate Accords, Trump’s administration planned to cut funding for the system of satellites that provided data for forecasting things like hurricanes, El Ninos and climate change events.


This was not very encouraging. Living on the coast would return to what it had been like before hurricane forecasting, like when 8,000 people were swept into the Gulf of Mexico because they had no warning of the 1900 Galveston Storm, or like when 600 people were swept off a Long Island beach during the 1938 Hurricane. They had flocked to the beach to see a mysterious fog bank that turned out to be the Storm Surge of the swiftly approaching storm that nobody had heard about.


The first hurricane warning service had been started in Cuba in the 1870’s. Father Benito Venes noticed that clouds preceded hurricanes as the storms passed from one side of Cuba to the other. He was able to use those observations to predict hurricanes days in advance. One reason that the Galveston storm had been so devastating is that the U.S. weather service had refused to incorporate Benito’s observations into their daily reports.


But by the 1950’s the US weather service were using aircraft to forecast hurricanes and they had started to name the storms after their pilot’s girlfriends. They could forecast a storm a day in advance in 1954, two days in advance by 1961, 3 days by 1964 and 5 days by 2001. If we want to achieve similar advances today, we have to continue improving our satellite system to provide data for more accurate models.


When coastal communities are destroyed by hurricanes today, it is usually not so much of a natural catastrophe as a man-made disaster brought about by people building homes on treacherous coastal cliffs and vulnerable barrier beaches.


I had been writing about one of these barrier beaches, Plum Island, since Hurricane Sandy. Because 2017 was also the fifth anniversary of that storm I decided to start my trip by looking first at Plum Island on the Northern coast of Massachusetts.



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