What are Harvey and Irma telling us?

Mammoth-sized Hurricane Irma moving toward the Caribbran Islands. NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership.

Two devastating Hurricanes in a row: first Harvey, then Irma. Texas was the first to suffer. Now it’s Florida’s turn to brace for the impact of Irma, among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

When Harvey vanished on September 2, after it wrought havoc to Texas as well as Lousiana for about a week, 71 people had died as a consequence of this hurricane of biblical proportions, one that broke the all-time record for total rainfall from a tropical system in the continental U.S. Cedar Bayou, Texas – about 30 miles from downtown Houston was literally inundated by 132 cm of rain.

In total, Harvey unloaded 33 trillions of gallons of rain in the U.S. It is hard even to think about such a gigantic amount of water, which would completely fill a square box with sides of 5 km!

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said it may cost as much as 180 billion dollars to rebuild the state, which would make it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. “The geographic area and the population affected by this horrific hurricane and flooding … is far larger than the population and geographic area of Hurricane Katrina,” Abbott declared.

Then came Irma. It churned its way across the Caribbeans, reducing Barbuda to rubble, than hit Cuba with the most powerful winds ever measured in an Atlantic hurricane north of the Caribbean and east of the Gulf of Mexico.

It soon became clear that Florida would be the next in the Hurricane’s the bull’s eye. The State has ordered 5.6 million people – a quarter of the state’s population – to evacuate, warning that those who do not leave cannot expect rescue services to reach them once Irma hits.

In the midst of this catastrophe it is easy to believe that something is really changing in the world’s climate: Climatologista are beginning to believe in a cause-effect association between climate change and hurricane intensity or frequency.

The main reason is that, when global temperature goes up year by year, relentlessly, a huge amount of thermal energy is released to the world’s climate system. And oceans are a big part of that.

And the Atlantic is taking the brunt of it. How can a Country like the U.S., so prone to hurricanes, be one of the most reluctant to do something about global warming and climate change?

While Barack Obama was really taking it seriously, it is well known that President Trump, arguably the most prominent “climate change denier” in the world, has been doing everything in his power to slow down efforts aimed at tackling this wordlwide threat to human survival.

As underlined by the Guardian, in just 30 years’ time, Donald Trump’s real estate empire in Florida will be experiencing the effects of climate change. His luxurious properties could face tidal flooding and storm surges for 3 months a year, while beaches could be badly affected by erosion”.

Let us hope that Trump will eventually acknowledge that his sons and daughters are going to be affected by climate change as well. This might be the only factor prompting him to follow the forward-looking example of his predecessor.

Federico Pasquaré Mariotto (Associate Professor, Insubria University, Varese, Italy)