The Impact of Climate Change and Monster Hurricanes

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There are several characteristics of the changing climate that are helping to increase the risks of damage from Hurricanes, even though global warming is not directly causing such a storm to spin up. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech, put the relationship between climate change and storms such as Florence as follows: "Hurricanes are absolutely being affected by our changing climate, in many ways.

 

Sucking Carbon Monoxide

 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a pollutant that affects methane, carbon dioxide, and tropospheric (lower atmospheric) ozone. It thus plays a role in both air pollution and climate change, and is therefore regulated in many parts of the world.

 

global warming

 

As the world warms, the rainfall associated with hurricanes is becoming more intense; they are getting stronger, on average; they are intensifying faster; they are moving more slowly; and, as sea level rises, the storm surge from these events can be more damaging."

 

What we Know on Climate Change and Hurricanes

 

Future climate change and associated impacts will differ from region to region.  Anticipated effects include rising sea levels, changing precipitation, and expansion of deserts in the subtropics.  Warming is expected to be greater over land than over the oceans and greatest in the Arctic, with the continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost, and sea ice.

 

Hurricanes changing temperature

 

Other likely changes include more frequent extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, heavy rainfall with floods, and heavy snowfall; ocean acidification; and species extinctions due to shifting temperature regimes. Effects significant to humans include the threat to food security from decreasing crop yields and the abandonment of populated areas due to rising sea levels.  

 

Hurricane Florence - COFL Science from Community of Lights on Vimeo

 

Hurricane storm surge keyimage

 

Because the climate system has a large "inertia" and greenhouse gases will remain in the atmosphere for a long time, many of these effects will persist for not only decades or centuries, but tens of thousands of years.

 

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Hurricane Florence Predicted Path as of Wednesday, September 12, 2018

 

Satellite Image of Florence During Landfall


Hurricane Florence could become the strongest hurricane on record to strike so far north if it makes landfall north of the border between South Carolina and North Carolina as a Category 4 or 5 storm. It brings multiple threats, including a massive storm surge at the coast, as well as a potentially catastrophic inland flood situation. 

 

Wrightsville Beach North Carolina 1

 Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina Before the Arrival of Huricane Florence

 

Hurricanes like Florence aren’t simply natural disasters ― they’re catastrophic events made worse by anthropogenic climate change, events that threaten human health and safety long after the storm has passed. As it happened, industries that are among the biggest contributors to the climate crisis were some of the hardest hit in Florence’s aftermath. Livestock production accounts for 14.5 percent of global human greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the agricultural sector, including livestock and crop production, is responsible for 9 percent of all carbon emissions in the United States.

 

Pork Industry in NC

 

North Carolina is the second-largest pork producing state in the country, behind Iowa. Nearly 9 million hogs are raised for slaughter on the state’s 2,100 hog farms, where the animals’ waste is dumped into massive open-air cesspools called lagoons. A week after the ladfall of Hurricane Florence, flooding had caused structural damage to at least six of the state’s 3,300 hog waste lagoons. Three of these damaged pits were breached and another 30 had overflowed, causing swine fecal matter to spill into and potentially contaminate the surrounding waterways with toxic hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. One hog farmer in Duplin County reported the flooding resulted in a “total loss” of at least 2.2 million gallons of waste from a single lagoon, according to North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.

 

Hogs lagoon


“It’s yet another problem that is posed by this industrial model of production,” Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Will Hendrick said: “It should be the case that we can produce food without putting our people in jeopardy.” The North Carolina Pork Council has downplayed the significance of the lagoon overflow. “While we are dismayed by the release of some liquids from some lagoons, we also understand that what has been released from the farms is the result of a once-in-a-lifetime storm and that the contents are highly diluted with rainwater,” the hog farm advocacy group said in a statement.

 

Aereal View of Devastation next to Gas Tanks


This Sept. 17, 2018, photo shows flood waters from Hurricane Florence surround two hog houses and it’s lagoon near Kinston, North Carolina. But the increasing frequency of severe weather events in the last few years due to climate change suggests Florence is in no way a “once-in-a-lifetime” storm. And since most of the state’s hog farms sit on coastal plains, and climate change is producing bigger, wetter storms, it’s likely these swirling cesspools of hog waste will continue to pose a threat to waterways and their surrounding communities for years to come. “This industry has shown its vulnerabilities in terms of these weather events for decades and has still resisted the need for change,” Hendrick said. “They continue to prioritize profit over people who are affected by their operations.”

 

Coal Ash Landfill Collapses in North Carolina

Coal Ash Landfill Collapses after Florence in North Carolina

 

The storm has also wreaked havoc on North Carolina’s energy sector, causing coal ash containment ponds in at least two sites to swell. The ash, which is the residue left behind by burning coal, contains toxic elements like arsenic, mercury and lead and is often doused with water and left in containment ponds for years.

 

nc hog waste protest 2015 waterkeeper

 

In 2017, coal accounted for 69 percent of all carbon emissions from the U.S. energy sector.  Duke Energy, one of the world’s largest utility companies, has 31 coal ash basins across North Carolina, holding 111 million tons of waste. It has decommissioned several of its coal power plants in the last few years, and earlier this month announced plans to shutter its remaining seven by 2048. Many of those coal ash ponds are dangerously positioned next to rivers and lakes and are highly vulnerable to flooding in an event like Florence. Like hog waste lagoons, heavy rains can cause these coal ash landfills and ponds to overflow into waterways ― and Florence did just that, even as Duke downplayed the risk in advance of the storm.

 

Flooding in Full Shot Over Carolinas

This Image Provided by Duke Energy Shows Sutton Lake Flowing into the Cape Fear River

 

Duke Energy reported last Saturday that 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash had poured into Sutton Lake from an adjacent coal ash pond. The lake, constructed by Duke Energy in 1972 as a cooling pond for its power plant, has also been designated as a recreational boating and fishing area by the state.  The current capitalist system is broken. Get updates on our progress toward building a fairer world. On Friday, the company said floodwaters breached a dam containing Sutton Lake and that it could not rule out that coal ash was flowing into the Cape Fear River. Spillage from three inactive coal ash ponds was also reported at the H.F. Lee Plant in Goldsboro on Monday. Duke Energy said visual inspections suggested low-hanging vegetation allowed only “a small amount” of coal ash to be displaced. But Waterkeeper Alliance pushed back on the company’s assessment after visiting the site.

 

Hogs lagoon

 

“Floating coal ash is clearly visible because flood waters have eroded the vegetative cover and are steadily washing ash downstream,” Donna Lisenby, global advocacy manager for Waterkeeper Alliance, shared in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “Duke Energy is falsely telling news reporters and the public that the tree cover on the ash ponds at Lee are preventing ash releases.” Frank Holland, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said this was an entirely unnecessary catastrophe that could have been prevented by evacuating the coal ash ponds and moving its contents uphill. “Duke could have greatly reduced the risk to North Carolina and its rivers during Hurricane Florence if it had spent years removing the ash from these sites rather than spending years spending money on lawyers and lobbyists,” Holland said. In 2014, a drainage pipe burst at a Duke Energy coal ash pond in Eden, North Carolina, causing 39,000 tons of the contaminant to flow into the Dan River. It was the third-largest such spill in U.S. history and resulted in Duke Energy pleading guilty to criminal negligence. The company agreed to pay $102 million in fines and restitution, the largest federal criminal fine in state history. But Holland said Duke Energy has continued to drag its feet in cleaning up other coal ash basins, pushing back on demands from the state and environmental activists to evacuate its toxic ponds and landfills. “This is a danger nobody should have to worry about,” Holland told HuffPost. “The only reason this ash is sitting in these unlined pits next to these rivers is because Duke Energy ... made a choice to flush this ash downhill and create water pollution and a public safety hazard purely for their own convenience and to save some marginal dollars.”

 

Roof Top Aereal View of Floods

 

Hurricanes Matthew and Florence have highlighted the urgency of removing coal ash from Duke Energy’s ponds as quickly as possible, said Lisa Evans, an attorney for environmental advocacy group Earthjustice. “If the water level rises sufficiently ― and it doesn’t have to rise very much in [Sutton Lake] ― it’s going to flood the ponds that hold 2.1 million cubic yards of coal ash,” she said. “It’s a huge danger.”

 

Floodwaters fill the waterways with debree

Floodwaters Fill the Wooded Area Near the Duke Energy Sutton Steam Plant

Near Wilmington, North Carolina

 

The scientific community — including experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — has long warned that anthropogenic climate change influences extreme weather events. The 2015 National Climate Assessment concluded that “hurricane intensity and rainfall are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.” Rainfall rates near the center of hurricanes are expected to increase by an average of 20 percent by the end of the century, according to the report. Scientists have also revealed there’s been a marked slowdown in hurricanes’ speed over both water and land, which increases the risk of heavy rain, flooding and storm surges. And a 2016 study found that climate change has caused hurricanes in the North Atlantic to migrate farther north ― a trend that is expected to continue as temperatures rise. Most scientists are careful not to attribute any single storm to our changing climate.

 

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Florence, in many ways, exemplified hurricane behavior in a warming world. The storm slammed into Wilmington, North Carolina, last Friday as a Category 1 hurricane, pushing storm surge up Pamlico Sound and into connecting rivers where it devastated cities like New Bern and Washington. The damage could have certainly been less extensive if not for sea level rise brought on by climate change. (In 2012, conservative North Carolina lawmakers chose to ignore the threat of sea level rise, passing a bill that barred policymakers and developers from using up-to-date climate science to plan for rising waters on the state’s coast.)

 

Flooding in Full Shot Over Carolinas

 

Then the storm stalled over the Carolinas, taking a slow-motion route that reminded many experts of Hurricane Harvey, which dumped an estimated 24.5 trillion gallons of rain over southern Texas and Louisiana last year. Over a four-day period, Florence dumped as much as 35 inches of rain in some areas, breaking the state’s tropical cyclone rainfall record. “There is simply more water filling these rivers because of the duration of these storms,” Evans said. “What we’re seeing ― what we saw in 2016 with Matthew and what we’re seeing right now with Florence ― is that this is having a tremendous impact on the storage of toxic waste in basins.” “The injustice is that climate change was, in part, caused by these industries ― but who pays? It’s the communities whose drinking waters are contaminated and harmed by these spills,” she added. “It’s an unjust situation when these communities bear all the risk and all the harm.”

 

Fayetteville Mayor

In Fayetteville, Mayor Mitch Colvin Stands Atop the Person Street Bridge

which Spans the Cape Fear River

 

Florence flooding

 

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Florence 4 flooded house

 

Fallen Tree

 

Florence 3

Images of the Destruction Caused by Hurricane Florence, September 2018

 

Flooding due to CSX Railroad

 

CSX Railroad Fought A North Carolina City’s Desperate Attempt To Prevent Devastating Flooding. Now, entire neighborhoods in Lumberton are under water for the second time in as many years.

 

Temporary Levee Built Too Late to Prevent Flooding From Lumber River

 

A temporary levee of dirt, gravel and sandbags was built over the railroad track in Lumberton over the weekend in an attempt to hold back Lumber River floodwaters.Not only did CSX refuse to allow the city to build the berm, it also threatened to take legal action if the city did, multiple people with knowledge of the situation told HuffPost. It wasn’t until local officials petitioned Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to intervene that they were able to begin construction of the makeshift wall late last week. Local leaders contacted Cooper’s office and the state Department of Public Safety on Thursday as Florence loomed off the coast of Wilmington and forecasts called for at least 2 feet of rain in the southeastern part of the state. Early Friday, Cooper issued an emergency order greenlighting construction of the berm at the railroad intersection, Sadie Weiner, a spokeswoman for the governor, told HuffPost via email. “CSX officials who were contacted did not consent to allowing for sandbagging of the tracks, arguing that there was no proof that it would work and that it would cause significant damage to their tracks,” Weiner wrote. “Upon further consultation and advice of local and state emergency management, the Governor issued an emergency order on Friday morning to allow for the construction of a temporary berm at the CSX railroad intersection.”

Houston Downtown Flooded

Downtown Houston Flooding Days After Harvey's Landfall in 2017

 

Destruction after Sandy

Destruction after Sandy in the New Jersey Coast in 2013

 

Destruction following hurricane andrew

Destruction after Andrew in Miami in 1992

 

Recent studies show that there may be ties between long-term climate change and some of this storm's characteristics:  There has been a poleward migration in where storms are reaching their peak intensity, which is related to the expansion of the tropics in a warming world. Hurricane Florence fits this pattern, as it's unusually far north for such an intense storm. There is evidence that tropical storms and hurricanes are moving more slowly on average, possibly explaining some of the behavior of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which stalled over coastal Texas for days.

 

 AtlanticHurricanesandClimateChange

 

There is also data showing more storms are intensifying rapidly in parts of the Atlantic, as Florence has, than in the past. This trend is expected to increase as the world warms.  Hurricanes that do form are tending to be more intense overall, and bring more rainfall, due to warming air and sea surface temperatures.

 

 storm eye and surge

 

Sea level rise from climate change increases the damage potential of any landfalling tropical storm or hurricane. In addition, a slew of studies has been published tying an increase in blocking weather patterns, like the one forecast to steer Florence into the Carolinas, to the loss of Arctic sea ice, but this is still a contested research area.

 

 

 

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HURRICANE FLORENCE'S IMAGES OF DESTRUCTION