We only have a decade to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
That’s the warning the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put out last year. But so far, nations are not slashing emissions enough to keep Earth’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — the threshold established in the Paris climate agreement.
“What we know is that unabated climate change will really transform our world into something that is unrecognizable,” Kelly Levin, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute’s climate program, told Business Insider.
That transformation has already begun. The last few years saw record-breaking temperatures, catastrophic and bizarre storms, and unprecedented ice melt. That’s all likely to get worse by 2030.
Here’s what we can expect in the next 10 years.
Scientists attribute the increasing frequency of record-breaking temperatures, unprecedented ice melt, and extreme weather shifts to greenhouse-gas emissions.
Fossil fuels like coal contain compounds like carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat from the sun. Extracting and burning these fuels for energy releases those gases into the atmosphere, where they accumulate and heat up the Earth over time.
“As long as we burn fossil fuels and load the atmosphere with carbon pollution, it all gets worse,” climate scientist Michael Mann told Business Insider in an email.
Last year, the IPCC warned that we only have until 2030 to act in order to avoid the worst consequences of severe climate change.
According to the IPCC, the world’s carbon emissions have to fall by 45% by 2030 to keep the world’s average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
So the next 10 years are crucial for any efforts to slow this trend.
If Earth warms more than 1.5 degrees, scientists think the world’s ecosystems could start to collapse.
“The choices that we make today are going to have profound impacts,” Levin said.
Even if nations stick to the goals they set under the Paris climate agreement, emissions will still likely be too high, according to the IPCC.
Under the voluntary goals set in the Paris agreement, the world would still emit the equivalent of 52 to 58 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030, according to the report. (This is measured as an “equivalent” in order to factor in other greenhouse gases, like methane, which is 84 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.)
So far, most countries are not on track anyway.
Regardless of what actions we take, there are a few changes scientists know we’ll see in the next 10 years.
That’s because the world will keep getting warmer even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases immediately.
In the worst case scenario, we might even the 1.5-degree temperature-rise mark by 2030.
The globe’s ice caps will continue to melt, and crucial ice sheets like the one in Greenland might start down an irreversible path toward disappearing completely.
“Somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees, there’s a tipping point after which it will no longer be possible to maintain the Greenland Ice Sheet,” Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, told Inside Climate News. “What we don’t have a handle on is how quickly the Greenland Ice Sheet will be lost.”
Greenland’s ice is already approaching that tipping point, according to a study published in May. Whereas the melting that happened during warm cycles used to get balanced out when new ice formed during cool cycles, warm periods now cause significant meltdown and cool periods simply pause it.
That makes it difficult for the ice sheet to regenerate what it’s losing.
That will lead to more sea-level rise — about 0.3 to 0.6 feet on average globally by 2030, according to the US’ National Climate Assessment.
In addition to melting ice, rising ocean temperatures cause seas to rise because warm water takes up more volume. As the globe heats up, scientists expect that simple fact of physics to account for about 75% of future sea-level rise.
The risk of high-tide flooding (which happens in the absence of storms or severe weather) is rapidly increasing for communities on the US Gulf and East Coasts.
In 2018, the US Northeast saw a median of one major sunny-day flood per year. By 2030, projections suggest the region will see a median of five such floods per year. By 2045, that number could grow to 25 floods.
The rising seawater won’t be distributed evenly across the globe.
Low-lying countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and the Seychelles are especially vulnerable. Rising oceans have already begun to threaten cities like Miami, New Orleans, Venice, Jakarta, and Lagos.
Some areas could see sea levels up to 6 feet higher by the end of the century.
Extra warmth and water means hurricanes will become slower and stronger. In the next decade, we’re likely to see more cyclones like Hurricane Dorian, which sat over the Bahamas for nearly 24 hours.
Over the past 70 years or so, the speed of hurricanes and tropical storms has slowed about 10% on average, according to a 2018 study.
When storms are slower, their forceful winds, heavy rain, and surging tides have much more time to cause destruction. In the Bahamas, Dorian leveled entire towns.
“The slower you go, that means more rain. That means more time that you’re going to have those winds. That’s a long period of time to have hurricane-force winds,” National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham said in a Facebook Live video as Dorian approached the Bahamas.
To make matters worse, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. The peak rain rates of storms have increased by 30% over the past 60 years.
That means up to 4 inches of water per hour. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a prime example of this: After it made landfall, Harvey weakened to a tropical storm then stalled for days, dumping unprecedented amounts of rain on the Houston area. Scientist Tom Di Liberto described it as the “storm that refused to leave.”
Hurricanes are likely to intensify more rapidly as well.
“It’s pretty well understood that if the water is warmer and it’s causing more moist air to come up, you have the potential of a storm to grow quickly and intensely,” Brian Haus, a researcher who simulates hurricanes at the University of Miami, previously told Business Insider.
Overall, extreme weather is expected grow more common and intense.
“Certain types of extreme events in the US have already become more frequent and intense and long-lasting,” Levin said. “There’s no reason to think that we’re not going to start to see an amplification of what we’ve been seeing.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that, overall, climate change will kill an additional 241,000 people per year by 2030.
The WHO expects that heat-related illnesses will be a major culprit, killing up to 121,464 additional people by 2030.
In the coming years, experts expect to see “day zeros” — the term for the moment when a city’s taps run dry.
In January 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, got dangerously close to this reality: The government announced the city was three months from day zero. Residents successfully limited their water use enough to make it to the next rainy season, however.
The IPCC projects severe reductions in water resources for 8% of the global population from 2021 to 2040.
Dry vegetation in hot regions lights up easily, which means more frequent, bigger wildfires.
“Climate change, with rising temperatures and shifts in precipitation patterns, is amplifying the risk of wildfires and prolonging the season,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a July release.
A 2016 study found that climate change nearly doubled the amount of forest that burned in the western US between 1984 and 2015, adding over 10 billion additional acres of burned area. In California in particular, the annual area burned in summer wildfires increased fivefold from 1972 to 2018.
We’re also likely to see more wildfires in the Arctic, which is warming almost twice as fast as the global average. That means Arctic sea ice is also disappearing.
“You take what was a reflective surface, the white ice, and you expose darker oceans underneath it,” Levin said. “That can lead to a much greater absorption of solar radiation, and knock-on warming impacts as well as change of weather patterns.”
The Amazon rainforest is in trouble as well, largely because farmers and loggers are cutting it down so rapidly.
A 2008 study projected that humans would clear away 31% of the Amazon by 2030. Another 24% would be damaged by drought or logging, the study found.
“The risk of transforming the Amazon to a savannah-like state — it could have a tremendous impact for our ability worldwide to get a handle on the climate-change problem,” Levin said.
That’s because the Amazon stores up to 140 billion tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of 14 decades’ worth of human emissions. Releasing that would accelerate global warming.
“You have a vital carbon sink no longer acting as a carbon sink, but instead acting as a carbon source,” Levin added.
Other crucial ecosystems face collapse in the next decade as well. At present rates, it’s expected that 60% of all coral reefs will be highly or critically threatened by 2030.
High ocean temperatures can cause coral to expel the algae living in its tissue and turn white, a process called coral bleaching.
It’s an increasingly dire problem, given that oceans absorb 93% of the extra heat that greenhouse gases trap in the atmosphere. Recent research revealed that the seas are heating up 40% faster, on average, than the prior estimate.
The consequences of coral bleaching extend beyond the coral itself, since reefs house 25% of all marine life and provide the equivalent of $375 billion in goods and services each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
About 55% of the world’s oceans could suffer due to rising temperatures, acidification, decreasing oxygen, and other symptoms of climate change by 2030.
These largely irreversible changes will eventually force mass migrations of marine life, upend ocean ecosystems, and threaten human livelihoods that depend on the ocean, according to a 2017 study. Many species that can’t adapt could die out.
“Climate impacts are also going to exacerbate social inequality,” Levin said.
That’s because people with fewer resources will be less able to avoid the worst impacts.
“That National Climate Assessment shows that residents, for example, in rural communities who often have less capacity to adapt, are going to be especially hard-hit given their dependence on agriculture,” Levin explained.
She added: “You can think also of the scenario of the poor who live in cities who could be at greater exposure to heat stress if they lack air conditioning and heat waves increase in frequency and duration.”
Myrelis “Mara” Diaz never expected to move to the U.S. mainland. That wasn’t in her plans.
But on Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria raged through Puerto Rico and tore up her San Juan apartment complex, leaving residents without running water. An AmeriCorps worker, Diaz spent the following days lugging heavy jugs of water up the stairs for her neighbors. She’d come home without food for herself. One day on a water delivery, when she tripped on the stairs and bruised a chunk of her leg, she decided she’d had enough.
Diaz, now 28, refers to herself as a climate change refugee. Less than two months after the hurricane hit, the graduate student fled Puerto Rico and relocated to Arizona for a new job, leaving the rest of her family behind.
“I’m in love with my island,” Diaz said. “This is not something that I chose for myself.”
Diaz is a part of Ecomadres, a program for Latinas fighting for clean air, and just one of dozens who traveled to Dallas to testify Thursday against the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to roll back methane emissions standards.
It was the only public hearing on President Donald Trump’s proposed rollback of protections, and it attracted dozens of environmental activists — many of them mothers — from all over the country, several of whom held back tears and trembled as they described the impacts that air pollution had on their lives. Several said they had lived near oilfields and had noticed their children’s health significantly decline.
EPA officials estimated the rule change would save the oil and gas industry $17 million to $19 million a year, and increase methane emissions by 370,000 short tons by the end of 2025. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has 28 to 36 times the impact of carbon dioxide on global warming over a 100-year span, according to the EPA.
Michael Abboud, an EPA spokesman, said in a statement Thursday that the rule would “remove regulatory duplication” and save the oil and gas industry millions in compliance costs every year, “while maintaining health and environmental protection.” The agency has received 963 comments so far on the new standards, he said. Written statements will be accepted until Nov. 25.
“EPA will review and consider all comments in the development of the final rule,” Abboud said.
Speakers at the hearing in the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse included residents from southern Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Sharon Wilson, a Dallas-based senior organizer for the environmental nonprofit Earthworks, said her son fell into a serious state of depression after he graduated from college because of climate change. She held up a photo of him to the three-member panel of EPA officials, and said many millennials felt a sense of “despair” over what’s to come.
“When you go home, see his face,” Wilson said. “See my tears and find the courage to do the right thing.”
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, came to support the rollback and said the oil and gas industry is still committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning into cleaner energy sources.
“The vast majority of production will be covered by this rule,” Sgamma said Thursday.
But even Native American leaders from tribes who have come to rely on the oil and gas industry’s revenues testified in opposition to the EPA proposal.
Carol Davis, a Navajo Nation member and coordinator of environmental nonprofit Diné CARE, said tribal communities have suffered from oil and gas companies’ methane waste on their land and are committed to transitioning to a clean energy economy.
Shaina Oliver, a Navajo Nation tribal member and advocate in Mom’s Clean Air Force in Denver, broke down in tears in her testimony as she told EPA officials they had an obligation to respect indigenous peoples’ voices and rights over their land.
“It’s really hurtful to see the people’s stories and to hear their pain,” Oliver said.
For Diaz, every moment she spends away from her island home is a reminder of the day she lost everything due to climate change, she said.
Some experts attribute the extreme amount of rainfall dumped by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico to climate change, and they worry the intensity of hurricanes will only become greater.
Diaz came to tell her story for her nieces, she said, who still live in Puerto Rico and who are more likely to experience displacement.
“I urge you,” she said fighting back tears,”to keep methane pollution safeguards, to fight climate change and demonstrate your commitment to our communities and our children.”
Climate change is already here. It’s not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting US senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.
But these early omens of our unstable, hot, wet future can be difficult to wrap our heads around. So Teen Vogue partnered with the team at the nonprofit news service Nexus Media, who developed a timeline predicting how climate change could affect three major US cities over the course of the 21st century. Climate change will look different in different places across the world, but we chose three places with distinct geographic concerns and climate vulnerabilities—to ground all the ominous statistics and headlines in a real sense of place. These are cities you may have visited, or where you may have family, or where you may even live.
According to the research Nexus compiled, St. Louis will see flooding, extreme heat, severe rainfall, and drought in the surrounding farmland. In Houston, on the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes will grow more destructive and temperatures will soar. San Francisco will witness rising sea levels, fierce wildfires, and extreme drought.
This timeline is based on interviews with a dozen climate experts and a review of several dozen scientific studies. The projections assume an average sea level rise of six feet by 2100—a little more in some places, and less in others—and the business-as-usual emissions scenario, which assumes that we will continue to pollute and use fossil fuels at our current rate.
Rather than a scientific assessment, it is a rigorously researched prediction of what our future could bring unless we come together as a country and as a global community—fast—to address climate change as the crisis it is.
As Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, put it: “The future is not set in stone. Some amount of change is inevitable. It’s as if we’ve been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for decades, but we don’t have lung cancer yet.”
“The amount of change that we’re going to see—whether it’s serious, whether it’s dangerous, whether it’s devastating, whether it’s civilization-threatening—the amount of change we’re going to see is up to us,” she continued. “It depends on our choices today and in the next few years.”
Houston’s starting to get hot. It’s now about one degree fahrenheit warmer in Houston than it was in the second half of the 20th century. Houstonians can expect especially balmy falls this decade, as autumns are warming faster than other seasons in Texas.
Houston knows how much it stands to lose from climate change. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated the city, which was supercharged by warm waters in the Gulf. But Houston is also helping to drive the rise in temperature. Several major oil companies and a vast network of oil refineries and petrochemical plants call the city home.
This decade, St. Louis is expected to be more than two degrees fahrenheit warmer than it was, on average, during the latter half of the 20th century. While locals have endured more sweltering summer days, they have felt the change the most during the cold months. Missouri winters are warming faster than summers, springs, and falls.
Warmer air holds more water, which can lead to more severe rainfall. In recent years, rainstorms have pummeled the Midwest and led to widespread flooding across the region. In 2019 in St. Louis, rivers reached near-historic levels, and floodwaters inundated the area around the city’s iconic Gateway Arch.
For San Franciscans, the beginning of the decade will feel only a little different from past years. In 2020, it’s expected to be less than one degree fahrenheit warmer in San Francisco than it was, on average, between 1950 and 2000. The change is small, but locals can sometimes feel it in the spring, which is warming faster than the other seasons, or on especially hot days.
But there are new worries for the city. Rising temperatures have fueled ongoing drought in recent years, which has, in turn, led to more wildfires. Fires now burn more regularly across the Sierra Nevada as well as coastal mountain ranges. The flames may ruin plans for weekend getaways to Yosemite or deliver noxious smoke to the Bay Area. And locals may start to reach for air masks as dangerously smoky days become more common.
“We get a lot of the smoke that comes from the wildfires that happen in inland California, and that makes it really hard to breathe the air,” said Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who is based in San Francisco. “Last year when there was a massive wildfire hundreds of miles away, San Francisco for a day [ranked among] the worst air quality in the entire world.”
By 2030, temperatures are expected to have warmed almost two degrees fahrenheit in Houston. Seas are expected to have risen a little more than a foot, enough to occasionally flood some low-lying areas outside the city. Warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico will raise the speed limit for winds during hurricanes and ramp up rainfall during storms.
“Hurricanes are not getting more frequent, but they are getting stronger and bigger and slower,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “They’re intensifying faster and they have a lot more rain associated with them today than they would have had a hundred years ago.”
By 2030, temperatures are expected to have warmed around three degrees fahrenheit in St. Louis. The kind of rainstorm that currently strikes the Midwest around once every five years will hit around once every three years this decade.
“We’ve seen these record-breaking, devastating floods in the Midwest,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “It’s not like they’ve never had floods before, but the floods are just getting a lot worse and a lot more frequent.”
This could mean trouble for local infrastructure. Rivers swell after heavy rains, and the rush of water can weaken bridges by carrying away sediment from around their foundations. This could be a big problem in Missouri, which is home to hundreds of aging bridges, many of which have been deemed deficient. Climate change could mean even more heavy repair costs for taxpayers.
This decade, the rise in temperature is expected to pass two degrees fahrenheit in San Francisco. That may not feel like a lot in the city. But warmer weather is taking a serious toll.
California’s drought will get progressively worse this decade, the product of warmer temperatures drying out soil and meager rainfall failing to replace the water lost. Rising temperatures will also yield less snowfall. The snow that does come down will melt in the spring and early summer, depriving the state of a critical source of water in the late summer, when, historically, melting snow has fed streams and rivers.
The snow drought will strain farmers in the Central Valley, while putting pressure on cities to use less water. The water restrictions the state put in place in 2018 will have grown much more severe in the past 12 years. Officials could urge Californians across the state to take shorter showers and stop watering their lawns to cope with the worsening drought.
This decade, sea level rise around Houston is projected to reach two feet, enough to inundate much of nearby Freeport and Jamaica Beach. That extra water will mean that hurricanes, when they strike, will deliver more powerful floods to coastal areas.
“A small and steady rise of the water level elevates a platform for flooding that we’ve had throughout history,” said Maya Buchanan, a sea level rise scientist at Climate Central. “That means larger storm surges.”
That’s bad news for people who live near the shore. Around half of deaths caused by hurricanes are the result of coastal flooding, and waters tend to inundate poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, which are more likely to lie in flood-prone areas.
In 2040, St. Louis is expected to be four degrees fahrenheit warmer than it was at the end of the last century. While that may sound like a small number, it means big problems for the city. A small uptick in the average temperature could lead to milder winters, stifling summers, and changing rainfall.
St. Louis will tend to see wetter springs and drier summers. That means the region will withstand heavier downpours, but it will also endure long stretches without a drop of rain. Despite the growing peril of major flooding, extended dry spells and rising temperatures will dry out the land. Drought will set in in Missouri, endangering farms.
And just remember—it will never be this cool again.
By 2040, sea levels are predicted to rise around one foot, enough to encroach the beaches on the west side of the city and Candlestick Point on the east, popular recreation areas. Parts of San Francisco Airport and Oakland Airport will flood regularly, making air travel in and out of the city more difficult.
Drought will have grown increasingly severe. Forests will dry out, and become vulnerable to bark beetles, which burrow into trees to lay their eggs. Healthy trees can ward off the bugs by covering them in resin—but already struggling trees have no way to protect themselves.
Large parts of forests will die, and the dead trees will become tinder for wildfire. In 2040, fires are expected to burn around twice as much of the Sierra Nevada as they do today. Areas south of San Francisco will also grow more vulnerable to erupting in flames.
By midcentury, temperatures are expected to have warmed more than three degrees fahrenheit in Houston. Waters in the Gulf of Mexico will have also warmed, fueling more dangerous storms.
In the decades to come, the Gulf will see more category-four and -five hurricanes, like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Katrina, according to Suzana Camargo, a climate scientist at Columbia University. Warm water is like ammunition for cyclones, arming them with more powerful winds and heavier rains. People might want to think twice before they purchase a home in Houston.
“I think people have to think very carefully how they are going to plan when they want to buy a house,” Camargo said, explaining that in the future, cyclones will deliver more flooding to seaside cities and towns.
St. Louis is expected to have heated up by more than five degrees fahrenheit on average by the middle of the century. Hot weather will dry out soil. Past 2050, the Central Plains, including much of Missouri, can look forward to decades-long drought.
This drought will be especially disastrous for Missouri farmers. Growers will have to take more water out of underground aquifers to feed their crops, drawing down a limited supply of groundwater, often at great cost. This, in turn, could drive up the price of food.
By 2050, temperatures in San Francisco are expected to have risen more than three degrees fahrenheit. In the second half of this century, changing weather patterns will yield lasting dry spells, leaving much of California to endure long stretches without rain. Around the time someone graduating high school today turns 50, they can expect California to enter a decades-long drought—with disastrous consequences.
Farmers in California will have to draw more and more water from underground. Eventually, they may not be able to grow fruits and vegetables in parts of the state. This will drive up the cost of many foods, such as strawberries, almonds, and lemons.
Snow will also start to disappear from the Sierra Nevada. By 2050, projections say, there will be a third less snow than we see today. San Francisco depends on that snow for its water, and a dry Sierra Nevada could mean a looming water crisis for the city.
The drought will also leave California’s forests all the more vulnerable to wildfire—fires that could cover San Francisco in smoke, making it dangerous to go outside.
By 2060, temperatures are expected to have warmed by more than four degrees fahrenheit. The city could see up to 25 days a year with temperatures over 100 degrees fahrenheit.
Local sea level rise, meanwhile, is expected reach three feet during this decade. This will raise the level of Buffalo Bayou, the waterway that stretches through the middle of Houston. The Scholes International Airport in nearby Galveston will sink into the sea, and at high tide, water will flood much of the San Jacinto Battleground, site of the 1836 clash where Sam Houston, the city’s namesake, overcame the Mexican Army.
St. Louis is expected hit a six-degrees-fahrenheit increase in its average temperature this decade. While this might be bad news for humans, it’s good for many insects, who love warm weather. Rising temperatures will bring disease-carrying mosquitoes to St. Louis’s doorstep. Missourians will have to be more vigilant about their health as the bugs could spread tropical viruses like Zika, dengue, and yellow fever around the warming Midwest.
Climate change will also bring more deer ticks to St. Louis. Because warmer air can hold more water, as temperatures rise, so does humidity—and deer ticks thrive in humid weather. While ticks are little seen in Missouri today, later this century they will fan out across the state, potentially spreading Lyme disease. Those afflicted will endure fever, headache, and fatigue. They may see their joints swell or feel their face droop.
By 2060, temperatures in San Francisco are expected to have risen by more than four degrees fahrenheit.
Wildfires will burn roughly three times as much of broad swaths of the Sierra Nevada as they do today, laying waste to large stretches of California’s pristine forests.
This decade, sea level rise is projected hit two feet. Water will begin to spill over the edges of the Mission Creek Channel, while threatening routine floods around San Francisco’s iconic Fisherman’s Wharf. Waters will have flooded much of nearby San Rafael, north of San Francisco. To the south, Foster City will be underwater, displacing thousands of residents—many of whom currently work in the tech industry.
By 2070, Houston is projected to be more than five degrees fahrenheit hotter than at the end of the 20th century. This warming is part of a larger trend that is heating up the planet and melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica, raising the sea level near the city.
“As flooding events get more severe, that can impact property values, and that could impact where people decide to live,” Buchanan said, explaining that rising seas will drive down the value of homes in low-lying areas.
By this time, waters will have already subsumed much of the coastline from Freeport, south of Houston, all the way to New Orleans. Rising seas will make much of the Gulf coast unrecognizable as the ocean swallows up most of southern Louisiana. Later this decade, sea levels are expected to have risen by four feet.
In 2070, St. Louis is projected to be more than seven degrees fahrenheit hotter than it was at the end of the last century. Before the decade is through, the city is expected to see eight degrees fahrenheit of warming. Rising temperatures will have utterly transformed the weather in Missouri, making it virtually unrecognizable to current residents. The city will see around 20 fewer days of frost each year than it does today, as well as around 20 extra days with temperatures over 95 degrees fahrenheit. The heat will be felt most acutely in neighborhoods short on trees and parks.
Outside the city, severe heat will cripple the growth of corn and soybeans at nearby farms. So will drought, which experts say will be worse than at any time in living memory. The state will endure more consecutive days without rain. When it does rain, however, it will pour. Warmer temperatures will produce more extreme rainfall.
By 2070, San Francisco’s average temperature is expected to have warmed by more than five degrees fahrenheit. Drought will be more severe than at any time in living memory. Rising temperatures and diminished rainfall will take a toll on trees around the San Francisco Bay. More and more evergreen forests will die off and grasslands will spring up in their place, fundamentally changing the landscape around the city.
By 2080, temperatures are projected to have warmed around six degrees fahrenheit on average, a dizzying change in the weather that means Houston won’t feel like Houston anymore.
The city will grow warmer and wetter. Around 2080, Houston will feel something like Ciudad Mante in Mexico does today, with its warmer, drier winter.
As the climate changes, Houston’s native wildlife could start to head north. At the same time, plants and animals that currently make their home south of Houston may start to work their way toward the city.
St. Louis is expected to be nearly nine degrees fahrenheit warmer by 2080. The temperature will have changed so drastically that St. Louis no longer feels like the same city.
Around 2080, St. Louis will start to feel like Prosper, Texas, does today. This new St. Louis will be hotter and drier. Summer weather will go from balmy to sweltering, and the city will see much less rain during the warm months.
It’s not just that St. Louis will feel more like Prosper. It might start to look like it too. Animals that currently live around Prosper could head northward as the climate changes, searching for a new home that feels like their old one. At the same time, the shrubs and grasslands that stretch across north Texas could start to edge their way toward Missouri.
By 2080, the average temperature is expected to have risen by more than six degrees fahrenheit in San Francisco. The city will start to feel a lot like present-day Los Angeles. The weather will be warmer and drier, much like the current climate in Palos Verdes Estates, a coastal city in the Los Angeles area.
With less rainfall, many of the trees that make their home in San Francisco will die. At the same time, the smaller, scrubbier plants that make their home in LA could migrate toward the city. It’s not just that San Francisco will start to feel like LA, scientists say. It might start to look like it too.
By now, temperatures are projected to have warmed close to seven degrees fahrenheit, while sea levels will have risen five feet, subsuming the coastline. Much of nearby Galveston is underwater.
It’s not just hot days that threaten Houston. Rising temperatures will allow the air to hold more water, increasing humidity—which could be a big problem for public health.
“As humidity rises, it becomes harder and harder for the sweat to evaporate off our skin—and it’s that evaporation of sweat that cools our bodies,” said Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “So it might only be a temperature reading of 90 degrees, but if you have 60% humidity, it’s going to feel hotter than 90 degrees.”
Dahl said that Houston will heat up so much that it will be hard to quantify how hot it will feel.
“By the end of the century, Houston would see about three weeks of what we call off-the-charts heat conditions, which are when the combination of temperature and humidity falls above the national weather services heat index scale,” she said. “What that means is that we can’t even calculate a heat index to reliably warn people about how dangerous it is.”
St. Louis is expected to have warmed by almost 10 degrees fahrenheit, a transformational change in the climate of the city. Rising temperatures could provoke a spike in violent crime—when people are hot, research shows, they tend to feel more aggressive.
By the end of the century, St. Louis will endure around 80 days per year where the heat index is above 100 degrees—compared to just 11 days at the end of the 20th century, according to Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“It’s really striking because historically those off-the-charts conditions have only occurred in the Sonoran desert region of the US, the California-Arizona border,” Dahl said.
In addition to extreme heat, the city will also endure severe drought, punctuated by the occasional supercharged rainstorm. The kind of downpour that currently strikes the Midwest around once every five years will hit around once every year or two. The most severe storms—the kind that currently show up once every 20 years—now arrive once every six or seven years.
Heavy rainfall will lead to flooding, and floodwaters will mix with raw sewage, helping to spread bacteria. Rains will also swamp homes and businesses, offering a place for mold to grow.
By now, San Francisco is projected to have heated up more than seven degrees fahrenheit on average. The extra heat will mean many people will be spending more time outdoors, potentially leading to a spike in violent crime.
The state will be mired in lasting drought. Wildfires could consume around four times as much of the Sierra Nevada as they do today, as well as forests closer to San Francisco, endangering locals.
The Bay Area is expected to have seen more than three feet of sea level rise. The San Francisco and Oakland Airports will be completely underwater. Across the bay, coastal flooding will inundate parts of Alameda. Low-lying areas on the south end of the San Francisco Bay will also be flooded, including some of San Jose.
By the end of this century, temperatures are expected to have warmed close to eight degrees fahrenheit in Houston. In the summer, Houston will feel something like Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, does today. High temperatures will average over 100 degrees fahrenheit during the warmest months.
By making life harder for workers, severe hotter weather will shrink the economy of the greater Houston area by 6%. Extreme heat will also kill hundreds more people each year. Poorer neighborhoods tend to be warmer, in part because they tend to have fewer trees. People who live in those neighborhoods are also less likely to have air conditioners, which will put them at greater risk.
On top of the heat, Houston is expected to have seen close to six feet of sea level rise by 2100. Waters encroach on the east side of town near the water, where oil refineries and chemical plants could continue to service our catastrophic addiction to oil and gas. Routine flooding of these facilities may cause dangerous explosions and potentially release toxic chemicals into the air.
Much of the city, however, will stay safe from the encroaching sea. That means Houston could absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents by 2100—people who were driven from Miami and New Orleans by ever-worsening coastal floods.
By the end of this century, St. Louis is expected to have warmed by roughly 11 degrees fahrenheit. Winter will scarcely look like winter. Summers will have gone from hot to unbearable.
During the hottest months, it will be so scorching that it will be dangerous to go outside for much of the day. People will depend more on air conditioners to stay cool, leading to bigger electric bills. Elderly people, particularly those who can’t afford to run an air conditioner, will face the risk of heat stroke and death.
The intense heat will take an immense toll on the local economy. Farms in Missouri and southern Illinois could see yields cut in half, ruining livelihoods.
In St. Louis itself, experts project that heat will stifle productivity by making it too hot to work. This could help cut the city’s economic output by around 8%.
By 2100, San Francisco is expected to have heated up by more than eight degrees fahrenheit on average. It will be hot and dry. Snow will be hard to find in the Sierra Nevada. By 2100, the mountain range will see two thirds less snow than we see today, depriving San Francisco of a much-needed water source.
Seas will have risen four feet, projections say. Large parts of Alameda will be underwater. Hunters Point will have flooded, as well as much of Mission Bay. And flooding won’t be limited to San Francisco.
Sea level rise could flood the homes of 13 million Americans by the end of the century, leading to a massive exodus from many coastal areas. By one estimate, rising seas in places like Oakland, Alameda, and San Mateo could spur close to 300,000 residents to move to inland cities in Arizona, Texas, and New Jersey. It is the poorest neighborhoods that will be the most vulnerable to floods.
Editor’s note: This story is based on RCP 8.5, the so-called “business-as-usual” emissions scenario that assumes that Earth will continue to heavily rely on fossil fuels as the global economy grows. Per Nexus Media, “As we are currently doing virtually nothing to stop climate change, RCP 8.5 is a pretty good predictor of what’s going to happen over the next couple of decades. Part of that is because it will take a while for the climate to reach a new equilibrium, so even if we stopped polluting now, the planet would continue to warm for decades.” It looks at a sea level rise of six feet, on average, globally, based on the findings of this widely-cited 2014 study.
People watch the Isuzu River swollen by Typhoon Hagibis, in Ise, central Japan Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)
As Typhoon Hagibis (which translates to “speed” in Filipino) approached landfall, the U.S. Geological Survey registered a 5.3 magnitude earthquake centered off the coast of Tokyo. It was considered to be a deep quake, which can cause less damage compared to more shallow ones.
A tornado also ripped through Chiba, a town north of Tokyo. At least five people were injured.
Destroyed house and vehicle are seen following a strong wind in Ichihara, Chiba, near Tokyo Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Tokyo and surrounding areas braced for a powerful typhoon forecast as the worst in six decades, with streets and trains stations unus
According to local reports, at least one person has died as a result of the typhoon and more than 50 were injured.
At the time of this publication, four people were reported missing.
Japan’s rugby team player Jiwon Koo, carries teammate James Moore in a flooded walkway at a stadium in Tokyo as the team practices ahead of their match against Scotland, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Tokyo and surrounding areas braced for a powerful typhoon forecast as the worst in six decades, with streets and trains stations unusually quiet Saturday as rain poured over the city. (Yuki Sato/Kyodo News via AP)
Cancellations included Japan Airlines and Nippon Airways, which grounded many of its domestic and international flights from the country’s main airports.
Also closed was the Tokyo Disneyland, along with a number of department stores and smaller shops throughout Tokyo.
WDW News Today@WDWNT
A photo of Tokyo Disneyland closed due to the typhoon
The first few days of the season haven’t felt much like fall at all for many across the United States. From snow storms to heat waves — hello? Did we miss something? What happened to mild temperatures and colorful leaves?
Here’s a look at three wild weather events that marked the start of season.
Record-breaking snowfall in the Northwest
“This has never happened, ever,” said Ray Greely, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, Montana, about the September snowfall. The city got 9.7 inches of snow on September 28 — the highest one-day September snow amount in Great Falls history.
But that’s not where the craziness ends. Even higher amounts fell in other areas in Montana: Browning got 4 feet, the Dupuyer area got 37 inches and the Heart Butte area got 34 inches.
History was made in Missoula, where the city broke its September snowfall record of 1.5 inches set in 1934.
Montana saw record snowfall in late September.
Spokane, Washington, got in on the action. The 1.9 inches of snow on September 28 broke the monthly record for September, set in 1926, of 1.4 inches, according to the weather service.
And a heat wave in the East
“You would imagine its sometime in early September, maybe even in the latter portion of August, because temps [are] running 10 to 15 degrees above average,” said CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri at the end of September, predicting that the summer heat would last into October.
He hasn’t been wrong. Nashville reached 97 degrees on October 1, making it the warmest October day in the city’s history.
And that’s not all. Pensacola, Florida, reached a high of 96 degrees on the same day, shattering the record high temperature for the month of October. Indianapolis, Asheville, North Carolina and Charleston, West Virginia, were among the dozens of other cities that broke October heat records with temperatures in the 90s on the first day of the month.
These hot temperatures should be dissipating in the next few days across the country.
Plus, a Category 5 hurricane, not where you think it’d be
Yes, you read that right. Former Hurricane Lorenzo strengthened into a Category 5 storm on September 28, before weakening into a Category 3 the next day.
But its (brief) strength isn’t the only thing that makes Lorenzo remarkable. It’s the strongest hurricane recorded so far north and east in the Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm has since headed to our neighbors across the pond, bringing wind and rain to Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom this week. Though the effects of the storm have largely died off, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said it was a rare event for the UK to have a wind storm from a system that was a hurricane.
Phoenix, one of the hottest and fastest-warming cities in the US, could be hit by “a [Hurricane] Katrina of extreme heat” with temperatures peaking in the 120s and lingering for two weeks. In a heat wave like this, the power grid would succumb to brownouts and blackouts and many elderly would die in their homes. (Complete story here.)
Southern California could see a wildfire that burns a total of 1.5 million acres. Smoke from the blazes could carry at least 100 miles west into Los Angeles and 100 miles south to San Diego, leading to hazardous air quality throughout the region and thousands of hospitalizations. Well over 100,000 structures would likely be destroyed and hundreds could die the flames. “The damage would likely be massive, potentially dwarfing what we have seen recently,” David Sapsis, a scientist with Cal Fire who reviewed the simulated fire, told me. (Complete story here.)
Tampa Bay is one of the areas in the US most at risk when hurricanes arrive because of its location, growing population, and the geography of the bay. If a Category 5 hurricane makes a direct hit on the bay, parts of Pinellas County — which is home to St. Petersburg — will temporarily become an island. People who choose to remain — or can’t evacuate — might be trapped. (Complete story here.)
For the Vox series, the Big Ones, we asked scientists about worst-case extreme weather scenarios for three vulnerable regions of the United States. Each of these events we described in these stories would be an outlier, a rare, extreme event, the far end of bad. But climate change is, broadly, rendering these kinds of events more severe, and in some cases more frequent, in many parts of the country.
And even if one of these events were to happen, even at a lesser degree of severity, it would still be extraordinarily costly, both in terms of human lives and other losses. The kind of event you’d wish you’d prepared for better, if you were a citizen, or a government official.
It’s clear these regions — Tampa Bay, Southern California, and Phoenix, along with countless others with similar vulnerabilities — are not doing enough to reduce the impact of these kinds of events, at this level of severity or at a milder but still damaging level. They’re still building in the path of tempests, still replacing heat-mitigating trees and soil with concrete. Government agencies are leaving millions of dead trees in the forest, ready to burn at the first spark.
With Hurricane Dorian, which recently slammed into the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, most of the deaths have been recorded in the community of undocumented Haitians who work on golf courses but live in shanty towns. In the scenarios we’ve outlined, the poorest, most vulnerable people stand to lose the most as well.
Weknow these disasters may be coming, but we need not cower in fear of them
The New Yorker published an essay earlier this week by the decorated novelist Jonathan Franzen that chastised climate activists and scientists for their “unrealistic hope,” and belief that “catastrophe is theoretically avertable.” Franzen, a “doomer dude,” views the “climate war” as unwinnable. Rather than doing everything we can to reduce carbon emissions, we should divert resources to adaptation and conservation, he says.
Franzen seems to be quite misguided.Vox’s Sigal Samuel wrote a great piece dissecting the criticism scientists and advocates voiced, from Franzen’s characterization of the science and the politics to his take on human psychology and behavior around climate change.
“[I]t is precisely the fact that we understand the potential driver of doom that changes it from a foregone conclusion to a choice, a terrible outcome in the universe of all possible futures,” Kate Marvel, a prominent climate scientist, wrote Wednesday in a piece for Scientific American titled “Shut Up, Franzen.”
The whole kerfuffle is a great reminder of how tempting it is for doomers to strip the conversation about climate change down to binaries, and zero-sum positions. Mitigation or adaptation. Naive hope or realistic pessimism.
Ultimately, these don’t serve the conversation well. We’re much better off in the realm of nuance, balancing awareness of the possibly catastrophic consequences of our past, current, and future emissions with the ongoing opportunity to prevent a mounting burden of suffering for future humans.
As Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate justice essayist and the director of publications at the Natural Resources Defense Council, put it: “It is absolutely possible to prepare for the disasters already, terrifyingly, upon us while also doing our damnedest to quit baking more in.”
Weknow these disasters may be coming, but we need not cower in fear of them. We can learn about them, and feel empowered to soften their blow.
Ultimately, these scary scenarios are worth contemplating because fear of impending disaster can be motivating; it can release us from the complacency that has kept us from insisting that our leaders get far more aggressive on reducing emissions. The growing threat of climate catastrophe can be a helpful nudge to leaders to up their ambition on decarbonization — and their disaster preparedness game at the same time — without succumbing to the Franzen-style cynicism of doom.
The Bahamas, for those who live there, is simply a place to call home. For many Americans, it’s a dream vacation spot. But Hurricane Dorian turned that dream into a nightmare. And the worst part is this is only the beginning. Because unless we confront the climate crisis, warming will turn more and more of our fantastic landscapes, cities we call paradise and other dream destinations into nightmarish hellscapes.
While the science has yet to come in on the specifics of just how much worse climate change made Dorian, we already know enough to say that warming worsened the damage. Because it’s not a coincidence that Dorian was one of the strongest landfalling storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, with the strongest sustained peak winds east of Florida, and the strongest ever to hit the Bahamas. This comes less than a year after Florida withstood the first landfalling category 5 hurricane in decades, on 5 October – the latest ever in the season for a storm that strong.
On a basic physics level, we know that warm waters fuel hurricanes, and Dorian was strengthened by waters well above average temperatures. The fact that climate change has heated up our oceans means Dorian was stronger than it would have been had we not spent the past 150 years dumping carbon pollution into the atmosphere. Sea surface temperatures were more than 1C warmer in the region where Dorian formed and strengthened than they were before we started burning fossil fuels.
Empirically, there is a roughly 7% increase in maximum sustained wind speeds of the strongest storms for each 1C of warming. Since destructive potential is proportional to the third power of the wind speed, that corresponds to a 23% increase in potential wind damage. We saw that wind damage in the heartbreaking scenes of total devastation that have come in from the Bahamas.
We know that the warmer air gets, the more moisture it can hold – and then turn into flooding rains in a storm like this. And we know that as climate change has melted glaciers and ice around the world, that water has gone into the oceans. The extra water, along with the expansion of water as it’s warmed, means that sea levels have been raised. That means when a storm like Dorian makes landfall, there’s more water for its storm surge, already bolstered by stronger winds, to push further inland.
All that extra water makes hurricanes even more deadly, since it’s generally not the wind but the water that kills people. So although Dorian’s 220mph gusts were incredibly dangerous (and sped up thanks to climate change), it was the 20-plus feet of storm surge and torrential rains that were the most destructive elements.
But there are two other ways that warming has probably worsened Dorian’s damage. One is that all that warm water allowed for the storm to ramp up quickly, undergoing what is known as rapid intensification as it exploded from a moderate category 2 to extreme category 5 over just two days. A recent study has shown that this is getting more common because of climate change, and indeed the past few years have seen many similar examples of this effect in action. Dorian was the fourth category 5 storm in just the last four years.
So while climate change is making it so hurricanes can spin up quickly, it may also be slowing down how fast hurricanes move. Instead of moving across a coast and dissipating as normal, in recent years these storms are lingering longer in place, which means more flooding as the water piles up. For example, that’s exactly what we saw in Houston during Harvey, and in North Carolina during Florence.
Had Dorian been moving at a regular pace of a few miles an hour, the devastation in the Bahamas would have been much less severe. But because it sat in place, basically stationary, the damage has been catastrophic. Again, Dorian is far from unique in moving slowly, as a study last year found a 10% decrease in speed for storms like this globally, while a similar study found a 17% decrease along the east coast of the US. While neither of these studies directly tie that slowdown to climate change, the theory that climate change is changing the jet stream in ways that would lead to stalling storms (a phenomenon one of us has researched) is growing increasingly convincing.
When all these factors combine in one storm, as it has for Dorian, it is truly a nightmare scenario – and a preview of the climate crisis to come. The only question is whether we have the foresight to address it.
Michael Mann is distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. His most recent book, with Tom Toles, is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy. Andrew Dessler is a professor ofatmospheric sciences and holder of the Reta A Haynes chair of geosciences at Texas A&M University. His most recent book is the Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A Guide to the Debate
As he refuses to take action to combat the climate crisis, which scientists say is making extreme weather events more intense and devastating, President Donald Trump reportedly suggested deploying America’s vast nuclear arsenal to stop hurricanes from reaching the United States.
Axios reported Sunday that Trump asked, “Why don’t we nuke them?” during a hurricane briefing in the White House.
“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?” Trump said, according to Axios, which cited sources who heard the president’s remarks.
Trump has reportedly invoked the idea of nuking hurricanes “multiple times” in meetings with U.S. national security officials.
“Trump also raised the idea in another conversation with a senior administration official,” Axios reported. “A 2017 NSC memo describes that second conversation, in which Trump asked whether the administration should bomb hurricanes to stop them from hitting the homeland. A source briefed on the NSC memo said it does not contain the word ‘nuclear’; it just says the president talked about bombing hurricanes.”
In a tweet Monday morning, Trump called Axios‘s story “fake news” and said he never raised the idea of bombing hurricanes, which commentators described as “dangerously moronic” and “absolutely nuts.”
Donald J. Trump
The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a page on its website dedicated to addressing the question, “Why don’t we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?”
“During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms,” the page reads. “Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems.”
“Needless to say,” NOAA concludes, “this is not a good idea.”
Environmentalists were quick to ridicule the president’s reported suggestion and demand action to confront the climate crisis and protect vulnerable communities from extreme weather events.
“We cannot believe we have to say this but elected officials should get their climate policy recommendations from frontline communities and science, not the movie Sharknado,” tweeted 350.org. “What if instead of dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes we just passed a Green New Deal and made fossil fuel billionaires pay for the devastation of climate disasters?”
Anote Tong can remember when Tebunginako, on the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati, was a thriving village.
But beginning in the 1970s, the tide started inching closer to the houses in the village. Over the years, as strong winds whipped up monster waves and climate change caused sea levels to rise, water inundated the island, overwhelming a seawall that had been built to protect the community.
Barely anything remains of the village today.
“It’s no longer there,” Tong said. “What we do have is a church sitting in the middle of the sea when the tide comes in.”
Villagers on the island of Abaiang had to relocate their village, Tebunginako, because of rising seas and erosion. (Justin Mcmanus/The AGE/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Tong served as president of Kiribati, a country made up of 32 atolls, from 2003 to 2016. Over that time, he watched as erosion damaged food crops, seawater flooded freshwater ponds and residents were forced to retreat.
He has become outspoken in describing the “existential threat from climate change” his country faces.
“In the near future, communities may have to relocate,” he said. “When it hits you directly, it’s very difficult for you to deny it.”
Tong has good reason to be worried. As human activities continue to alter the environment, islands are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of the planet’s changing climate.
A family wades through their flooded village, floating an old fridge, collecting sea-bed stones to build a flood wall in Eita, Tarawa, Kiribati. (Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)
In these recent examples, the islands were small and uninhabited, but scientists say the fate of these tiny pieces of land could be a harbinger of what’s to come.
“With some of these small islands, maybe it’s no big deal to the average person because they’re uninhabited, but you’re going to see these same processes happen on larger islands and populated ones,” said Curt Storlazzi, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, California.
Storlazzi has conducted research on coastal erosion in the tropics. He says that one way rising sea levels can redesign coastlines is by generating bigger waves, adding layers of sediment in some places while causing erosion and flooding in other areas.
“If sea levels continue to rise as projected,” Storlazzi said, “there’s going to be even greater change.
The threat of rising seas
The link between climate change and sea level rise is well understood among scientists. Burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. As global surface temperatures increase, the planet’s glaciers and ice sheets melt, raising sea levels.
Since the report’s release, some scientists have suggested that these estimates are too conservative. Among them is Patrick Nunn, a professor of geography at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, who was one of the authors of the chapter on sea level rise in the U.N. assessment.
Nunn said most scientists now agree that even if countries took steps today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, average sea levels would still rise by up to 6.5 feet by the end of the century.
“What we’ve done thus far, as of the last 150 years or so, has been locked in,” Nunn said. “There is a bit of uncertainty, but the general consensus is that we can get temperatures under control but it’s a much larger challenge to get sea level rise under control.”
Even without sinking whole islands, that amount of sea level rise is enough to engulf most coastlines, potentially displacing millions of people.
“On many islands — even ones that aren’t low-lying — the majority of critical infrastructure is right at the shoreline, whether it’s ports, airports, primary roads, power plants or water treatment plants,” Storlazzi said. “Most of these things are very close to the coast.”
Extreme weather’s ‘knockout blow’
Another force reshaping islands is extreme weather. That’s what happened in Hawaii, when the category 5 Hurricane Walaka wiped out tiny, uninhabited East Island.
Studies have shown that climate change could make storms more intense, particularly in the Caribbean and the western Pacific. Catastrophic storms could disrupt the natural processes that erode coastlines and move sediments to build them back up again.
“In a situation where the climate is not changing and sea levels are not rising, what has normally happened is these islands would eventually re-form after the storm passes,” Nunn said. “In a changing climate, particularly one where the sea level is rising, I think intense storms of that kind will be a bigger knockout blow.”
Satellite photos taken last month show that a narrow swath of East Island appears to be re-forming, with seals returning to its beaches. But Nunn said that even if some islands do return, it’s unclear whether they will grow back to their original size.
Pacific islands under siege
Even with ample evidence of how the planet’s climate has changed since the Industrial Revolution, many scientists are cautious about drawing direct links between disappearing islands and climate change. The Earth is complex, and many things are working in tandem to reshape coastal landscapes.
“You’re probably never going to be able to prove definitively that climate change was responsible for a particular phenomenon,” Nunn said, “but at the same time, the evidence is just so overwhelming.”
Nunn has spent more than 30 years studying countries in the western and South Pacific, including Micronesia and the Solomon Islands, where sea levels are rising the fastest. Whereas seas are rising an average of 3.2 millimeters per year globally, parts of the western Pacific are seeing an average jump of 8 to 12 millimeters per year, driven by wind patterns that are moving more water to the region.
That makes islands in this part of the world especially vulnerable.
“For now, sea levels are rising along every coast and in some places, it’s rising much faster,” Nunn said.
Paul Kench, a coastal geomorphologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and his colleagues have surveyed thousands of islands in the Pacific. While islands have always been at the whim of the waters that surround them, they found that erosion is accelerating as a result of rising seas and intensifying storms. And though larger islands are more stable than smaller ones, they, too, will likely experience dramatic changes, he said.
“There is no doubt that climate change is having an influence on the rate at which some of these islands are changing,” Kench said.
‘A window into the future’
Current rates of sea level rise are expected to continue for at least 100 years, so scientists project that coastlines will continue to be bombarded for generations to come. And it likely won’t be just small, uninhabited islands that face an existential threat.
Scientists say the islands that disappeared in Hawaii, Japan and the Arctic are warnings of what could happen to much larger islands — and even continental coastlines around the world.
“This gives us a window into the future,” Nunn, of the University of the Sunshine Coast, said. “It tells us this is what’s likely to happen in the next 20 years or so, and not just in the island context.”
He says governments should pay attention to the islands in the western Pacific and make their own coastal communities more resilient. This includes fortifying critical infrastructure near the coasts and being smart about rebuilding after storms, including not erecting new structures in known flood zones.
“The evidence is there. We can see what’s going to happen,” Nunn said. “What’s happening to these islands is the same thing that is going to happen to New Orleans, Los Angeles and all sorts of coastal cities. The sooner we start thinking about this, the less painful it’s going to be.”
PURI, India (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless after a cyclone packing winds of about 200 km per hour slammed into eastern India, ripping out tin roofs and destroying power and telecom lines, officials said on Sunday.
Damaged houses are pictured following Cyclone Fani in Puri, in the eastern state of Odisha, India, May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jatindra Dash
At least 33 people were killed after cyclone Fani struck the state of Odisha on Friday but a million people emerged unscathed after they moved into storm shelter ahead of landfall.
The death toll could have been much greater if not for the massive evacuation in the days before the storm made landfall, officials said.
The seaside temple town of Puri, which lay directly in the path of Fani, suffered extensive damage as winds gusting up to 200 kph (124 mph) tore off tin roofs, snapped power lines, and uprooted trees on Friday.
“The cyclone has killed 21 people in Puri and about 300 people are injured,” Brajabandhu Dash, medical officer at Puri, told Reuters. Earlier, 12 deaths were reported from other parts of the state.
The depression over the Western Meghalaya and adjoining Bangladesh has weakened, and will become insignificant in the next 24 hours, India’s met department said on Twitter early on Sunday.
According to preliminary reports, Fani damaged power infrastructure worth more than 12 billion rupees ($173.7 million) and the authorities are trying to restore electricity supply for emergency services, another official said.
More than 60,000 people including officials and volunteers were involved in relief operations, said special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi, who monitored the evacuation.
The relief effort used sirens, loudspeakers and sent more than 20 million mobile messages to the targeted people, he said.
The cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal can last from April to December, and storms can be deadly. In 1999, a super-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours, killing 10,000 people.
Fani was the strongest summer cyclone in 43 years to hit Odisha, disrupting water supplies and transport links, the state’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik said in a statement.
“We are in the process of restoring physical infrastructure,” he told reporters.
RELIEF FOR VICTIMS
Relief agencies were trying to provide food and medicine to victims in other parts of the state, while hundreds of thousands were still not accessible due to roadblocks and disruption in the communication network, officials said.
The town of Puri was littered with tree branches, the debris of damaged houses and broken glass. Relief teams were trying to clear the roads.
“There was no wind at night (before landfall). We thought nothing will happen,” P. Chittmma, 45, told Reuters while laying on a bed at a government hospital, showing her fractured leg.