Hurricane

Ecology: An Overview of Devastating Hurricanes in the United States

New York declared a state of emergency after heavy rains and flash floods caused by devastating Hurricane Ida.  Floodwater rushed into the subway stations and also swept away buses and cars from the roads.

According to local media sources, at least nine individuals died due to flash floods in the northeastern United States. In addition, many people were stranded in their flooded basements. Both New York and New Jersey governors declared states of emergency immediately, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio termed it a “historic meteorological event.” New York Central Park received a minimum of 3in (8cm) of rain in just one hour.

There was a closure of subway lines in New York City, and non-emergency cars were barred from the streets. Additionally, there was a massive cancellation of many planes and trains departing from New York and New Jersey. The U.S. National Weather Service issued an immediate flood emergency across New York City, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. It also issued tornado warnings across Massachusetts and Rhode Island. As opposed to a warning, a flood emergency is issued in scarce circumstances when a flash flood poses a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage occurs or will occur soon.

Devastation
Credit: Devastation

The Aftermath

Often, the ending of a disaster is only the beginning. The recovery process begins once the storm passes and the dust settles. But, first, the property damage and the profound personal grief need to be assessed, and there should be an assessment of invisible environmental consequences.

Hurricanes rank among the deadliest destructive natural catastrophes. According to the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program, storms account for two-thirds of all property losses in the United States. Natural ecosystems, on the other hand, incur a substantial hit in addition to property. For example, according to WeatherBELL, a meteorological analytics company, Hurricane Harvey dropped an estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain on Texas and Louisiana during six days in August. Harvey also broke the record for the most significant rainfall from a tropical storm in the continental United States, with 51 inches.

Hurricane Ima followed hurricane Harvey and wreaked devastation across the Caribbean Florida and the Southeast. The hurricane knocked out electricity in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for several weeks. In addition, pollutants from flooded industrial sites allowed dangerous chemicals to infiltrate project sites, groundwater, watersheds, and the seas untreated.

Devastating Hurricane
Credit: Pixabay

What is a Hurricane?

Tropical cyclones across the Northern Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Oceans are hurricanes. They are known as Typhoons, Tropical Cyclones, or Cyclones in different ocean basins. It is a storm system composed of a low-pressure centre and thunderstorms with high winds and heavy rain. Tropical cyclones over the Northern Hemisphere spin counterclockwise, whereas those in the Southern Hemisphere rotate clockwise.

Tropical cyclones classify into four types in the North Atlantic and East Pacific. A tropical depression is a well-defined surface circulation and organized thunderstorm activity with maximum sustained winds at less than 17 metres per second. A tropical storm has a distinct surface circulation with well-organized thunderstorm activity, and maximum sustained winds range from 17 to 32 metres per second.

A hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 33m/s or higher (64kt, 74mph, or 118km/h). At this intensity, a storm will form an ‘eye,’ a zone of relative calm in the centre of the circulation. Hurricanes having maximum sustained winds of more than 111 mph classify as significant hurricanes.

What Causes Hurricanes?

Hurricanes require heat and moisture to survive. They should have six elements to become a tropical cyclone.

  • At depths of up to 50m, water temperatures greater than 26.5°C (80°F) should be there (150ft). As a result, the overlying atmosphere becomes unstable enough to support convection and thunderstorms.
  • Fast cooling of the air with height should occur as this permits the release of latent heat, which provides energy for tropical cyclones.
  • In the lower to mid-troposphere, high humidity levels should exist. Low wind shear is also required to prevent the storm structure from being torn apart.
  • Tropical cyclones must also be more than 5 degrees on each side of the equator for the Coriolis influence to give enough rotation.
  • Finally, a tropical cyclone requires a previously disturbed weather system. There must be circulation and a low-pressure centre.

Where Can Hurricanes Occur?

Tropical cyclones are capable of forming in any of the world’s seas. They are most common in the tropics, although they also exist in the mid-latitudes. Tropical cyclones usually travel westward and bend poleward towards the mid-latitudes due to trade winds. The bulk of tropical cyclones originate between 10 and 30 degrees north and south of the equator. The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) stands as the primary source of formation.

Path of Hurricane Charley
Credit: NASA

Devastating Hurricanes in the History of the United States

Charley 2004

Hurricane Charley was a small but powerful storm, causing more than $20 billion in damage. After blasting through Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, the storm increased as it passed the Florida Peninsula. It brought 79 mph winds to Orlando and a tornado across Daytona Beach’s south side. Then it returned for a few seconds, making landfall at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, before slowing down in southeast Virginia.

1938 Hurricane

This Atlantic-borne storm wreaked havoc on Long Island and southern New England. There were heavy winds of 180 mph and the destruction of 150 houses in Westhampton, New York. In addition, the surge and wind gusts from the Category 3 storm produced highly high tides that swept up Long Island’s south shore and climbed to 14 feet in Providence, Rhode Island.

Florence 2018

On September 14, 2018, Florence made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Florence is one of the deadliest and most expensive storms ever hit the Carolinas. There were at least 51 deaths and floods that shattered 28 different records.

Superstorm Sandy 2012

The second-costliest storm in U.S. history spared none. It wreaked havoc in 24 states from Florida to Maine and then through the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin. However, New Jersey and New York bore the burn of the hurricane. Sandy’s winds alone knocked out electricity to 8.5 million people in the Northeast. The storm surge and raging waves damaged or destroyed 650,000 houses. Sandy’s destruction is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion.

The storm caused much damage when it reached the densely populated districts of New York and New Jersey. The storm surge that slammed New York City flooded streets, subways, tunnels,  and damaged power systems. The United States, Bermuda, and the Caribbean islands were all affected.

Labor Day Hurricane
Credit: Sun Sentinel

1935 Labor Day

This holiday hurricane was a shocking surprise. The storm, which ripped into the Keys on September 2, 1935, was simply a Category 1 hurricane the day before as it swept through the Bahamas. However, when it reached the United States, the hurricane’s initially peaceful nature became more menacing. The estimated wind speed at landfall of the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane was 161 miles per hour. It stood as the third-highest wind speed at landfall of any hurricane to strike the United States. However, due to the absence of wind sensors, the wind speed is approximated using storms with similar pressure values at landfall.

Lake Okeechobee 1928

The Okeechobee Hurricane, also famous as the San Felipe Segundo Hurricane, recorded the most incredible wind speed at its landfall in U.S. territory. When it made landfall in Puerto Rico in 1928, it reached 160 miles per hour wind speeds. The Okeechobee Hurricane is the only Category 5 hurricane to hit Puerto Rico. The monstrous Category 5 hurricane first terrified Puerto Rico before moving on to south Florida, where it impacted West Palm Beach with 145 mph winds.

While the hurricane damaged around 1700 residences in the city, the region surrounding Lake Okeechobee suffered considerably more damage. The lake overflowed due to storm surge, flooding the surrounding area with 10 to 15 feet of water. Like later Hurricane Charley, the storm traversed Florida before making a second landfall, this time at Edisto Island, South Carolina.

Irma 2017

Hurricane Irma lasted over two weeks, wreaking widespread havoc throughout the Caribbean and the Florida Keys. The Category 5 hurricane had 180 mph winds at its height, decimating the islands of Barbuda, St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla, and the Virgin Islands. Irma produced $65 billion in damage, making it the second-costliest Caribbean storm behind Maria.

Michael 2018

On October 10, 2018, Storm Michael made landfall in the contiguous United States, becoming the first Category 5 hurricane since Andrew in 1992. With gusts of 160 mph, it made landfall in Mexico Beach, Florida. Most of the storm’s destruction concentrated in Florida’s panhandle, with Panama City the most affected. The devastation to crops stood at around $158 million.

Hurricane Camille Devastation
Credit: Accuweather

Camille 1969

Camille was so powerful that no one knows how fast the winds were, since the storm destroyed all wind-measuring equipment. Because Camille was small, the storm surge of 24 feet in southern Mississippi was relatively concentrated. As a result, it inflicted limited devastation in comparison to any bigger storm. Nevertheless, Camille’s devastating course resulted in $1.4 billion in losses.

When Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi coast in 1969, it achieved the most incredible wind speed at landfall, estimated at 190 miles per hour. This wind speed upon landfall is the greatest ever recorded anywhere else. Unfortunately, the actual maximum sustained winds will never be known because the hurricane destroyed every wind-recording device in the landfall region.

Andrew 1992

Andrew, while being a relatively minor hurricane, gave a heavy blow. When it made landfall on Florida, it was a Category 5 hurricane. However, it later dropped to a Category 3 by the time it struck Louisiana’s coast. Andrew was dangerous because of its high wind speeds. These winds destroyed around 127,000 houses in Florida. The damage stood at an estimated total cost of $26.5 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history at the time.

Hurricane Andrew holds the record for the second-highest recorded landfall wind speeds, with gusts estimated at 167 miles per hour as it hit south Florida. Unfortunately, the cyclone destroyed many of the devices used to measure wind speeds. Therefore, the exact sustained wind speeds are unclear.

1926 Miami Hurricane
Credit: PBS

Miami 1926

The actual tragedy of the 1926 Miami Hurricane was when the storm’s eye passed over the city. Many people assumed the storm had passed and abandoned their shelters. However, the hurricane’s worst portion, with a 10-foot storm surge, appeared shortly after. Inland, strong winds drove the water from Lake Okeechobee onto Moore Haven’s beach. The beach was totally inundated and remained devastated for weeks. Damage estimates stood at $105 million.

Harvey 2017

In 2017, Storm Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with 130 miles per hour winds on San Jose Island, Texas. Harvey then made landfall on mainland Texas some time later . In Texas, an estimated 500,000 cars and 300,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The hurricane subsequently lingered over Texas as a tropical storm, and several places in the Houston metropolitan area received more than 30 inches of rain in three days. Harvey then re-entered the Gulf of Mexico, made landfall in Louisiana, and proceeded northeastward as a tropical depression, producing more flooding along the route. All of the floods, structural damage, and car damage

It slammed into southern Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, causing widespread flooding in the Houston metro region. Over four days, 40 inches of rain fell on Houston and nearby regions, displacing over 30,000 people and costing $125 billion in damage. It is one of the costliest tropical cyclones on record.

Galveston 1900

The Galveston Hurricane, known as the worst hurricane in American history, struck Galveston Island on Texas’ eastern coast in 1900. With winds more than 120 miles per hour, the hurricane bypassed Florida and spun over the Gulf of Mexico. As the cyclone strengthened to Category 4, water levels rose to more than 20 feet. More than 3,000 homes were destroyed, and the damage was estimated to be more than $30 million.

Devastation by Superstorm Katrina
Credit: Britannica

 Katrina 2005

Hurricane Katrina was undoubtedly the most expensive hurricane in U.S. history. The property damages totaled to more than $125 billion. In addition, storm surge damaged several structures along the Mississippi shore, with devastation reaching many miles inland.

The storm surge from Katrina surpassed and burst levees in the New Orleans metropolitan region, inundating most of the city and suburbs. In addition, Katrina’s wind impact stretched well inland into northern Mississippi and Alabama and Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida.

Katrina struck Florida and the central Gulf Coast with a double blow. The winds pulled down trees and destroyed structures, as they do in many hurricanes. However, the storm surge inflicted the most damage, peaking at an estimated 28 feet in portions of Mississippi. Most notably, this surge broke New Orleans’ levees and floodwalls, resulting in catastrophic flooding in 80% of the city. There was a total of $108 billion in losses across all impacted areas and it is the most expensive storm in history.

 Maria 2017

After the destruction by Hurricane Irma in 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Dominica as a high Category 5 hurricane and in Puerto Rico as a high Category 4 on September 20, 2017. It was the greatest natural disaster to hit the US . With maximum winds of 175 mph, Maria caused $90 billion in damage, making it the third-costliest tropical storm ever recorded. Maria also became the deadliest Atlantic storm, killing 3,057 people. As of September 2018, Puerto Rican communities were still rebuilding the devastated towns and cities.

Conclusion

Hurricanes lists among the deadliest ecological disasters on planet Earth. They bring devastation, destruction, loss of human life and habitat and some painful memories to leave behind!


Recent Articles:

Remembering the Rolling Stones’ Drummer Charlie Watts: 1941-2021
Anthropology: The Recent Re-Emergence of the Controversial Tradwife Subculture
Anthropology: The Origin and History of the Dahomey Warriors

Leave a Reply