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Water-Related Wreckage in Coastal Communities




Here in the Midwest, we’re fortunate for a number of reasons. Beautiful season changes, great people (we may be biased but it’s also true), and plenty of fun things to do on any day. However, some places aren’t so fortunate. While states like Florida and Texas seem like they’re nothing but fun in the sun, they are also ravaged by some of the most devastating storms to ever hit the United States: hurricanes. These sea squalls, while not as inherently dangerous as the tornados we experience in the Midwest, tend to stick around much longer and cause more damage through this longevity. In this week’s blog, we’ll discover what environmental settings cause hurricanes and what different classifications look like, the damage they’ve caused in recent months, and what the horizon looks like moving forward through the rest of the storm season.


Causes and Classifications of Hurricanes

From approximately June to November the South and Southeast regions of the United States are most privy to hurricanes. They are caused by energy from water vapor on the ocean’s surface in low pressure areas, and most of them never actually hit land. The eye of the storm can fool some people who remain in their homes during a storm, but actually this is only an indication that it is halfway over. Hurricanes form in a large, donut shape with the eye being the center. For this reason, the calmness in the eye of the storm can lead to a false sense of safety. Storm surges are a side effect of hurricanes and other tropical storms which cause water levels to rise to levels higher than the predicted tide would have otherwise indicated. This is actually what causes most casualties in regards to a hurricane, not the high windspeed or debris as some may think.

Typically, any storm hitting land with wind speeds from 39-73 mph is classified as a tropical storm and given a name. From 74-95 mph, the storm is listed as a category 1 storm. These produce minimal damage except in the cases of mobile homes. Category 2 storms have windspeed from 96-110 mph and can do slightly more damage, but most structures should still be safe except for some possible exterior damage. 111-130 mph wind speeds mean a category 3 storm is in play. These can cause much more damage such as severe flooding, downing large trees, and desecrating mobile homes. Category 4 storms have wind speeds from 131-155 mph and can tear off roofs to some homes and buildings, cause inland flooding, and extensive damage to both the interior and exterior of buildings. Hurricane Katrina was classified as a category 4 when it hit in 2005. These storms typically mean evacuation for those in areas which scientists project will be affected. Any storm with wind speeds above 155 mph could mean catastrophe for those in affected areas. Severe inland flooding, leveled buildings, and power outages which could last for weeks or months are all possibilities. After either a category 4 or 5 storm, affected areas may be uninhabitable for weeks after the end of the hurricane.


Recent Storm Damage

Hurricane Harvey, the first storm of 2017 to hit the continental United States, was listed as a category 4 upon its arrival at the Texas coast on August 25th. According to most of the known information about the storm’s aftermath, it caused around $180 billion in damages to homes, buildings, and land in the areas or Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Approximately 70 people died in the storm and its aftermath. Hurricane Irma followed shortly after Harvey. The worst path of destruction narrowly passed the northern coast of Puerto Rico, but still caused significant damage to both it and other surrounding islands. Over a million Puerto Ricans were left without power and at least 12 people died in the wake of the category 5 storm across the string of affected islands including St. Martin and Barbuda. By Monday, September 11, Irma had weakened to a tropical storm in Florida, but not before cutting power to over half the state and producing plenty of damages.

Looking to the Future

Other powerful hurricanes are on the horizon for costal communities as well. Hurricanes Jose and Katia have both made landfall and have since weakened, but damages are still being assessed. Between Irma and Jose, this year is the first time in recorded history that two hurricanes in the Atlantic had winds reaching 150 mph at the same time. While more investigations as to the extent of damages are being conducted, consider giving money to relief organizations and donating to community action projects.