As Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico and Dominica on its way to the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas, killing at least 32 people, despair was turning to rage from Caribbean islands that have seen two devastating storms in less than a month.
“As Maria follows on after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, there is rising anger in the Caribbean about hurricanes and climate change,” Oil Change International reports in a dispatch for EcoWatch. “There is no one left on the Antigua and Barbuda islands after previous Hurricane Irma effectively destroyed the island’s infrastructure and housing with 185 mph winds. All the inhabitants had to be evacuated.”
And now, Caribbean islands are starting to call out the underlying factor behind the devastation.
“Climate change is real. We are the victims of climate change because of the profligacy in the use of fossil fuels by the large industrialized nations,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told Inter Press Service on his way to this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“These nations that have contributed to global warming and sea level rise have an obligation to assist in the rebuilding of these islands,” Browne added. “Our common humanity, as citizens of a common space called planet Earth, mandates a spirit of empathy and cooperation among all nations, large and small.”
While scientists still can’t and won’t attribute any specific storm or event to climate change, they can and do point to the rising probability of more frequent, severe weather—and that knowledge is increasingly likely to drive court action against carbon polluters. What’s been scariest about the 2017 severe storm season, the Washington Post reports, is how quickly tropical depressions have been growing into massive hurricanes.
“Looking back through the records, Maria went from a tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane in just two and a half days,” said Mark DeMaria, acting deputy director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center. “I couldn’t find any other tropical cyclones in our historical record that went that quickly from a depression to a Category 5 hurricane.”
“That’s a big problem, because rapid intensification sets the stage for worst-case scenarios,” the Post notes. While researchers are still working to understand the phenomenon, they do know that “rapid strengthening tends to happen when waters are warm, when that warm water is deep, when the atmosphere is moist, and when there’s little adverse wind flow that could disrupt the storm,” writes climate specialist Chris Mooney.
“And broadly speaking, what we appear to be seeing this year—similar to the catastrophic Atlantic hurricane season of 2005—is that the environment is extremely hurricane friendly. Storms simply rev their engines and find that the fuel is of the highest grade, and there’s a deep well of it. Then they take off, and there’s nothing to disrupt them.”
This morning, CBC is reporting 15 dead in Puerto Rico, 14 in Dominica, two in the French territory of Guadeloupe, and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with the toll certain to rise with searches starting up again at daybreak. On Puerto Rico, the electricity grid was totally destroyed and power could be out for months, adding physical devastation to a long-running fiscal crisis confronting the unincorporated U.S. territory.
“Puerto Rico was already facing the largest municipal debt crisis in U.S. history,” CBC notes. “A team of judges overseeing its bankruptcy has advised involved parties to put legal proceedings on hold indefinitely as the island recovers.”