Mega storms are becoming more and more common as the planet warms. But climate change has affected more than just the power of the storms, it’s also changing how quickly and in what conditions they’re able to rapidly intensify. Hurricane Laura made history as it rapidly intensified before landfall, defying forecast models that expected a category 1. The stories and pictures are still filtering in from the landfall site of Laura, but the huge storm hasn’t finished expending her wrath yet as it scythes its way into the heart of the south.
Hurricanes are getting stronger, more frequently
Hurricanes increasing in intensity are going to be the norm as climate change begins to warm oceans and affect weather patterns. A study released earlier this year detailed how the likelihood of a major tropical cycle affecting land increased by over 8% over the past 3 decades. That means that major storms are 40% more likely to impact land than they were 30 years ago. This is a staggering change. Florida natives often wax poetic on the hurricane parties and “rainy-windy” storms of childhood. The monster storms making landfall in recent years do not resemble the ones we grew up with on the Gulf and east coasts.
Climate change means these monster storms aren’t going anywhere
Scientists agree that man-made climate change is partially to blame for the sudden increase in category 4 and 5 storms devastating the continental US. Warm ocean water and unpredictable weather patterns leave hurricane prediction models scrambling to keep up with what to expect as these giant weather events are born and grow far from land.
Rapid intensification causes woes for residents and forecasters
But they also grow not-so-far from land. Rapid intensification is a process whereby a storm increases wind speed over 35mph in less than 24 hours. CNN reports the conditions that need to be present for a storm to undergo rapid intensification, “Ocean water needs to be warm — more than 86 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal — with that heat extending beneath the surface. Upper level winds must be calm so they don’t disrupt thunderstorm activity.
A storm’s internal conditions also must be just right. A hurricane needs a way to ventilate, much like a car engine, so it can continue to process all of the fuel from the warm water and use it to strengthen the storm.”
Rapid intensification is happening more frequently
While not much is known about rapid intensification because it tends to be fairly rare, it’s happened more often in recent years, leading to monsters like Laura, Michael, and Dorian. Because the rapid intensification process can occur close to land, residents who expect a smaller storm can find themselves in the path of a monster when they turn the TV on the next morning.
Storm surge is often the deadliest effect of a storm
Often with storms of Laura’s size, the wind isn’t the only major threat though. As these massive low-pressure systems push towards lands, they push enormous volumes of water ahead of them. As the storms near the coast, the water begins pushing up onto land. When the storm hits, the push onto land becomes violent and low-lying areas can be rapidly inundated as the huge systems push water ahead of them like a bulldozer.
20 foot storm surges expected as Laura approached land
Storm surge predictions along the gulf coast included horrifying a horrifying 20 feet for areas directly in the path of the storm. Louisiana contains a lot of swampy marshy land in it’s southern region, and these wet and low-lying areas are already prone to flooding.
During final approach, Laura showed no signs of weakening
As Laura completed it’s rapid intensification phase, forecasters hoped to see it stabilize or weaken as Marco had before landfall. Unfortunately, Laura stubbornly maintained a 939mb pressure which indicates a storm with no intention of weakening any time soon.
The monster storm comes ashore
Laura officially made landfallin Cameron, Louisiana, just after midnight central time on Thursday. With it came destruction and flooding, and people from a distance could only watch and hope that those asked to evacuate had left in time.
Facebook live stream takes viewers into the heart of the storm
Reed Timmer, a meterologist and storm chaser, live-streamed from Facebook as he and his team drove through the streets of Lake Charles, directly in the path of Laura. Horrified viewers watched as they faced into the screaming winds and saw trees and buildings torn apart live on camera. At one point, Timmer and his crew left their vehicle, but the camera continued rolling. It faced a Wendy’s, and viewers watched the restaurant succumb to the winds as the structure was torn into by Laura. Thursday morning, Timmer and his crew loaded up in their back-up vehicle and drove down to the coast to attempt to retrieve a data-collection device they had placed prior to the storm’s landfall. As they filmed in Hackberry, Louisiana, grim scenes were revealed more reminiscent of a tornado than what one expects with a hurricane. Some houses appeared mostly intact, while others were utterly demolished, leaving behind piles of wood. Flooding still had not receded in some areas, and roadway appeared washed away at points.
The storm may have moved inland, but it will take time to see the full effects
As with monster storms like Hurricanes Michael and Katrina, images will trickle in over the next few days and weeks to reveal the extent of damage along the storm’s path.
Good news and heartbreaking news
It seems as though LA was spared the worst of the predicted storm surge and in areas expected to receive 20 feet, they instead received closer to 9 feet. Unfortunately, despite this bright point in an otherwise grim day, one death associated with the storm has been reported so far. A Vernon Parish, Louisiana, 14-year-old was killed when a tree fell on her house during the storm. Search and rescue teams have moved into the hardest hit areas, and death tolls for storms like these often rise in the weeks after landfall. In Cameron, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards was quoted by the Associated Press, “They’re thinking Cameron Parish is going to look like an extension of the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days.”
Hurricane Laura isn’t done yet
Despite the initial overload of information about landfall, the storm isn’t finished. Now more than 170 miles inland, Laura maintains hurricane status, with 75mph winds. Inland state Arkansas is facing an unusual tropical storm warning as the storm pushes north before making a final turn north-east and heading back into the Atlantic.
Things could have been worse, but much remains unknown
The one bright spot over the past day is that the storm does not appear to have caused as much damage as officials feared. In Texas, the governor credits evacuations for keeping residents safe, while Edwards says they are still assessing.
With Laura still churning it’s way over southern states, and search and rescue teams working with officials to reach the vulnerable and determine the extend of the damage left in her wake, this story isn’t over yet. Residents will return to structures damaged by wind and water, and the cities in the path of Hurricane Laura will spend months to years putting life back together. Life on the Gulf coast of Florida has only begun to return to normalcy now in some places, two years after Hurricane Michael cut a path of destruction into Alabama and Georgia.
Our thoughts are with those who were and are in the path of Laura
While good news about the storm surge could mean an overall better outcome for residents on the coast, structural damage remains to be assessed and 150mph winds are strong enough to cause catastrophic damage to most structures. As this historic storm continues on it’s path, everyone affected is in our thoughts at CELEB.