We’re hitting the limits of hurricane preparedness
Seventy-four hours. That’s roughly how much time separated the moment that Tropical Depression Nine formed in the Caribbean from the moment that the storm, transformed into a ruthless Category 4 hurricane named Ida, made landfall at Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Even less time—perhaps 60 hours—separated the storm’s promotion to hurricane strength and the first arrival of tropical-storm winds in Louisiana, the latter of which marks the moment that any official evacuation must be nearly complete. That’s when drivers need to start getting off the roads, and when local services are shut down until the storm passes.
Climate change has a subtle influence on hurricanes: They seem to be getting wetter and more intense, but not necessarily more frequent. Scientists are confident that global warming is increasing rainfall from major tropical cyclones, just as it is increasing precipitation amounts from all types of storm. Scientists have observed that tropical cyclones are generally getting stronger worldwide, as well. A growing share of hurricanes are Category 3 or greater, according to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But some researchers also believe that more hurricanes are following the route taken by Ida and getting significantly stronger in the hours before landfall.
Politicians could try to cope with rapid intensification by ordering evacuations even before a storm was certain to strike their city, but a needless evacuation can be costly. In 2005, nearly as many Houstonians died fleeing Hurricane Rita in cars as died in the storm itself. The answer, Hereid has proposed, may be to build better hurricane-safe shelters in cities so that people don’t have to leave a city for protection from a storm. For now, though, Americans are stuck with the evacuation plans and physical infrastructure that they already have: roadways and cities built for the wrong century, built for a kinder climate.
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