ICYMI: Hurricane Matthew

over 2 years ago

By Chelsea Henderson, Climate Eye Editor

In case you missed it, a Category 4 hurricane ravaged the island nation of Haiti last week before striking Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina. The storm packed a dangerous punch and dumped devastating amounts of rain on the southeast, forcing mandatory evacuations, leading to over 30 deaths, causing billions in damage in its wake and leaving millions of Americans without power. Some states, including North Carolina and Virginia, are still dealing with dangerous flooding conditions.

Danger also presented in ways that had nothing to do with direct meteorological conditions. As people in the path of the storm were buying provisions, helping friends and family take shelter, and battening down proverbial hatches, Matt Drudge tweeted about the likelihood that Hurricane Matthew was a conspiracy.

"The deplorables are starting to wonder if govt has been lying to them about Hurricane Matthew intensity to make exaggerated point on climate," he tweeted. Surely no one in the eye of the storm took him seriously, but with over a million followers, his message did a disservice to all Americans. In a similar vein, right wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh insinuated that climate realists hoped the storm would strike large population centers. "It's kind of like UFOs," Limbaugh said. "UFOs never land where there are smart people. UFOs always land in trailer parks and places. You ever notice that? UFOs land in swamps. They land out where nobody lives. They don't go to MIT. They don't go to Harvard. Well, a hurricane hitting a swamp is worthless to the global warming crowd. A hurricane has to hit a population center."

To their credit, both presidential candidacies put politics aside and issued statements urging residents to heed warnings and follow instructions from local officials.

While no one can blame Hurricane Matthew on climate change, scientists report that warming ocean conditions contribute to storm intensity, and the waters off southeast Florida are one degree Celsius warmer this year than usual. "The warmer ocean temperatures surely helped fuel Matthew," said David Zierden, Florida's state climatologist. He also pointed out that sea level rise contributes to greater storm surge, and the waters off Florida are eight inches higher than they were a century ago. Sea level rise is just one of the expected impacts climate change will continue to have.

While ultimately the U.S. was spared a crisis on the level that Haiti is dealing with, the impacts were still severe, costly and widespread. Hopefully Hurricane Matthew taught us a lesson: it's dangerous to politicize the weather, but even more dangerous to ignore climate change science.