Two catastrophic events on both sides of the country grabbed headlines this week. Hurricane Isaias and the Apple fire - Both offering a glimpse of what life in a warming world could look like.
These overlapping disasters can be seen as a preview of things to come, says the scientific community. And they couldn't have hit at a wors time, with rescue workers and medical staffs overloaded as it is. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed flaws in the nation's defenses, including underfunded government agencies and stressed and overworked response crews. Experts warn that the country must fundamentally rethink how it prepares for similar scenarios in the future, as the effects of global warming accelerate.
Hurricane Isaias hit the Carolinas on Monday evening with 80-mile per hour winds and rising water levels as much as 5 feet. It was downgraded to a tropical storm by Tuesday afternoon after causing floods in Pennsylvania and leaving 1.2 million people in New York and New Jersey without power. The storm spawned tornadoes, including one that killed two people in North Carolina. In total, seven people have lost their lives in the storm.
Isaias is the ninth named storm so far this year, a number unprecedented in the hurricane season which officially starts June 1st. With the current storm count, 2020 is on track to be the busiest hurricane season ever. Forecasts are predicting an extremely active storm season, mainly due to warmer ocean waters, which give such storms more energy, making them stronger. Warmer air also plays a part, as it holds more moisture which fuels the storm further.
Climate change is shifting us into an era of higher risk from extreme weather events.
Meanwhile, in Southern California, firefighters are still struggling to contain wildfires in the San Bernadino mountains, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles. Named the Apple fire, it began on Friday and has since burned over 27,000 acres (over 20,000 football fields). California has a long history of seasonal wildfires. The Mondocino fire in 2018 burned nearly half a million acres, and the disastrous Camp fire, also in 2018 burned 150,000 acres, destroying habitats and wildlife, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing 85 people in its wake.
The Apple fire while not as large as some others is a direct result of a scorching heatwave and low precipitation. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of the California fire season. Larger fires are expected to hit the Golden State between the months of August to November.
These fires grow more intense each year. Intensifying heat waves are making vegetation drier and more likely to catch fire.
Nevada and other nearby states have issued a smoke advisory, urging people with respiratory problems to stay indoors. Wildfire smoke contains high amounts of contaminants that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory problems. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the concern is that this smoke will make it harder for some people to breathe and become more susceptible to lung infections. Smoke can increase the risk of deep-lung infections like pneumonia, which occurs in severe cases of Covid-19.
With temperatures rising both in our oceans and further inland, scientists are confident that we will see more events such as these occurring, and more often than not, happening at the same time.
They are also confident that similar events will only intensify if we continue to cover our eyes and ears and choose to ignore the warnings. It's up to each and every one of us to make a difference in this greatest battle of all, the battle for our home planet.
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