Tag Archives: hurricane

A daring first: Ocean drone captures video from inside a hurricane

A group of United States scientists have dispatched a camera-equipped ocean drone inside a hurricane currently barreling through the Atlantic Ocean. The drone, which looks like a robotic surfboard, will help scientists to improve forecasts models that predict hurricanes, which are expected to get more severe due to the climate crisis. 

The drone, technically called a “Saildrone” and manufactured by a company with the same name, is being used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) inside Hurricane Sam. Footage recently released shows the small craft in the middle of the hurricane, amid striking 15-meter waves and winds over 190 kilometers per hour.

While it’s the strongest storm of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, Hurricane Sam is not expected to make landfall in the US. Still, it’s will generate ocean swells likely to impact the northern Leeward Islands and the Greater Antilles, including Puerto Rico. Bahamas and Bermuda could also experience the ocean swells in the next few days.

“Saildrone is going where no research vessel has ever ventured, sailing right into the eye of the hurricane, gathering data that will transform our understanding of these powerful storms,” Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder, said in a statement.  “After conquering the Arctic and Southern Ocean, hurricanes were the last frontier for Saildrone survivability.”

Understanding hurricanes

The Saildrone is actually just one member of a fleet of five that have been sailing across the Atlantic Ocean during the hurricane season, collecting data to better understand the physical processes of hurricanes. The information is directly being sent to NOAA and to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, where it’s then reviewed. 

They are equipped with a specially designed “hurricane wing” that allows them to operate in extreme wind conditions, as now with Hurricane Sam. The mission can last up to 12 months without the need to return to land for maintenance or refueling, traveling at an average speed between two to six knots, and under satellite supervision.

Each Saildrone has an automatic identification system, navigation lights, radar reflector, and four onboard cameras. They can record all sorts of measurements, such as salinity, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and barometric pressure, knowledge then used by scientists to improve storm forecasting in the near future. 

“Using data collected by saildrones, we expect to improve forecast models that predict rapid intensification of hurricanes,” Greg Foltz, a NOAA scientist, said in a statement. “Rapid intensification, when hurricane winds strengthen in a matter of hours, is a serious threat to coastal communities.”

Several hurricanes have reached the United States so far this year in what has been a very active 2021 season, causing major damage, flooding and power outages. One of the most recent ones was Hurricane Ida, which reached Louisiana on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – the costliest storm in the history of the US ($125 billion).

Amid the climate crisis, researchers are confident that warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels will intensify the intensity and impacts of hurricanes. Studies by NOAA have shown that an increase in Category 4 and Category 5 hurricanes is likely. Hurricane wind speed could increase 10%, with warmers sea temperatures also making them wetter. 

A new tropical storm, Peter, has formed in the Atlantic. Another, Rose, is likely to follow soon

A new tropical storm has been brewing in the Atlantic. Christened “Peter”, it marks the 16th named storm of this year’s hurricane season.

Forecasted path of tropical storm Peter. Image credits National Hurricane Center.

Tropical storm Peter formed east of the Caribbean on Sunday, centered some 400 miles off the Leeward Islands. According to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), the storm is expected to pass north of the Lesser Antilles and is likely to produce between one and three inches of rainfall around its edge. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Leeward Islands are liable to see “areas of urban and small stream flooding” up through Tuesday, the NHC adds. Top wind speeds are expected to fall below or around 45 mph (72.5 km/h).

Stormy again

Although it has barely been a week since Hurricane Nicholas slid across Texas and Louisiana, and just a little over three since Hurricane Ida battered the same shores, a new storm is brewing in the Atlantic.

Tropical storm Peter is the sixth hurricane to form this year. Along with these, three major hurricanes (meaning they were a category 3 or higher in intensity) have raged in 2021, making it quite the busy year. Naturally, more could be on the way. As far as Peter is concerned, the NHC notes that a strong cold mass of air is moving eastward across the U.S., which is likely to butt heads with the storm. This front of cold air should push Peter back out to the ocean and insulate the Eastern Seaboard, if not completely, then at least to a certain extent.

Despite the formation of this tropical storm, no coastal watches or warnings were in effect as of this Sunday in any of the areas highlighted by the NHC.

Forecasters are also keeping tabs on a tropical depression in the eastern Atlantic. This particular low-pressure system was picked up around 315 miles west-southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands (off the western coast of Africa). While not particularly intense right now, moving northwards at around 14 mph with sustained winds of around 35 mph (22.5 and 56.3 km/h respectively), there is still a high chance that it will morph into a new tropical storm — which will be named “Rose”. The two storms started coalescing pretty much at the same time, but Peter developed more rapidly in intensity.

If we consider Rose as well, this would be the third Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history to have 17 named storms by the 20th of September. The others were the 1966 season, the 2005 one, and 2020. The link between climate change and freak weather or events such as hurricanes has been highlighted in the past, and the high incidence of storms recorded this season certainly seems to follow that hypothesis.

Each hurricane in every year is given a name starting with the corresponding letter of the alphabet — A for the first, B for the second, and so on. Last year, in particular, had so many named storms that meteorologists exhausted the alphabet and had to assign Greek letters, only the second time in history that this has happened. It still holds the record for the highest number of storms in a single year, 30. The runner-up is still the 2005 hurricane season, with 28 recorded storms.

Hurricanes are primarily fed by expanses of open, warm water. As the planet’s climate heats up overall, so do the oceans, meaning we’re likely to see stronger and more frequent events of this kind in the future. They are also likely to become wetter — to carry more precipitation — due to higher overall levels of moisture in the atmosphere, as higher mean temperatures lead to higher levels of surface evaporation. As storms increase in intensity and sea levels rise, they are also liable to generate more storm surges, and thus become more dangerous over time.

A report by the United Nations released in August has also issued a warning to this extent. According to the document, unavoidable shifts in climate will lead to more intense and more frequent heatwaves and droughts over the next 30 years. Hurricanes have already been following this trend for the last 40 years, it adds.

Dangerous Hurricane Ida strikes Louisiana on Katrina anniversary

After plunging New Orleans into darkness over the weekend, Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – the costliest storm in US history. Ida arrived on the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm but has already weakened to a Category 1, with flash flooding now being the primary hazard. 

Image credit: NOAA

On its latest advisory, the National Hurricane Center said Ida is now a tropical storm and is affecting large parts of southern Louisiana with dangerous storm surge, damaging winds, and flash flooding. The storm is moving at 13 km/h (8 mph) and is forecasted to progress into southwestern and then northeastern Mississippi. 

Ida took out the power in all New Orleans, with about one million people in Louisiana without power too, according to the tracker PowerOutage. On Twitter, New Orleans major Latoya Cantrell warned people to remain inside. Work is currently being done to get the electricity back to the pumping stations that are used to control flooding. 

The National Weather Service issued warnings of flash floods and storm surges for several areas, including the towns of LaPlace, Luling, and Destrehan, west of New Orleans, asking residents to move to higher ground. New Orleans Mayor Tim Kerner said the town’s levees were breached, which he described as “total devastation.” 

President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster for Louisiana. This gives the state access to federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. Biden visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington and said Ida was a “life-threatening” storm that was likely to be “devastating” for the affected states. 

One person has died from a falling tree in Prairieville, which is 60 miles northwest of New Orleans. Louisiana Governor John Edwards said Ida could become the most powerful storm to hit the state since 1850, claiming it would be a “very serious test” to the emergency systems. Hundreds have been evacuated from their homes, he added. 

As it now deals with Ida, Louisiana still has fresh memories of Katrina, which made landfall on August 29, 2005. The storm caused 1,800 deaths and $125 billion of dollars in damage. Katrina was a Category 5 Hurricane and particularly affected New Orleans, where flooding causes most of the loss of lives. 80% of the city was flooded for weeks. 

Ida is the 17th storm that has hit the United States in the last two years, Jeff Masters, a former NOAA meteorologist, told AP. So far this year, storms Elsa, Danny, Claudette,  Elsa, Fred and Henri have hit the country – all tropical storms when making landfall. This number is only exceeded by last year’s record of 11 landfalls, Masters added. 

Hurricanes and climate change

A hurricane is basically a type of tropical cyclone – a low-pressure system that happens in the tropics or subtropics. Stronger systems are called hurricanes or typhoons, while weaker ones are called tropical storms. The National Hurricane Center categorizes hurricanes based on their wind speed, from Category 1 to Category 5 (the strongest). 

There’s now substantial evidence showing that climate change will intensify the intensity and impacts of hurricanes. As water temperatures get warmer, more heat energy is available, increasing the potential for hurricanes to develop. Category 4 and Category 5 we’ll get more common, NOAA said, with wind speeds expected to increase by 10%. 

At the same time, scientists believe that sea-level rise will make hurricanes more damaging. Sea level is expected to increase by at least 12 inches (0.3 meters) by 2100 on a low-emission scenario, amplifying coastal storm surge. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 is a recent example, with sea-level rise intensifying its damages due to coastal flooding. 

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the best way forward to reduce the risk of hurricanes in the future. Cities and towns can also increase their resilience by elevating vulnerable buildings, designing structures to be more resilient to high winds, preserving dunes and reefs to absorb storm surges, and properly preparing for a storm’s arrival. 

Space hurricane detected over the North Pole for the first time

Credit: Qing-he Zhang/ Shandong University.

For the first time, scientists have observed an extreme meteorological phenomenon called a “space hurricane”. The 1,000-kilometer-wide (620 miles) swirling mass of plasma recorded last week manifested for hours in Earth’s upper atmosphere, roughly 125 miles over the North Pole.

Scientists call the event a ‘space hurricane’ because its flows were strongest at the edge and decreased as you move toward the center, before picking up again on the other side, similarly to the airflow of a regular hurricane.

The space hurricane in Earth’s ionosphere was spinning anticlockwise, had multiple spiral arms, and last about eight hours before gradually breaking down. That’s about where the similarities with tropical hurricanes end, though.

Instead of water, space hurricanes rain down electrons. Like other space weather events, space hurricanes are caused by streams of plasma that hitch a ride on solar winds blown by the sun. Essentially, these are charged particles that are radially dispersed across space, and which can trigger magnetic storms and even the famous northern or southern lights when encountering Earth’s magnetic field.

“Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible,” Mike Lockwood, a space scientist at the University of Reading, said in a statement.

“Tropical storms are associated with huge amounts of energy, and these space hurricanes must be created by unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Sometimes, this radiation can wreak havoc on satellites in orbit and, occasionally, can cause outages on the ground by disrupting power transformers and other pieces of infrastructure. This is why scientists routinely monitor the planet’s magnetic field for disturbances.

But it was only recently that researchers at the University of Reading, UK, Shandong University, China, and the University of California, Los Angeles, identified a space hurricane once they combed through data recorded by satellites in August 2014.

Using this data, the research team devised a 3D model of the storm, which allowed them to describe the space weather phenomenon in great detail. What was particularly surprising was that the space hurricane formed during a period of low geomagnetic activity, which suggests that this phenomenon may be more common.

The researchers plan on conducting follow-up studies to determine how frequent these storms are. These investigations could prove paramount to the monitoring of space weather, which can disrupt GPS systems.

The findings appeared in the journal Nature Communications.

Warming climates make hurricanes more dangerous and longer-lasting over dry land, a new study explains

Hurricanes are getting a boost from climate change and taking longer after making landfall to slow down and disperse. These changes are likely to mean that hurricanes in the future will affect communities farther inland.

Image via Pixabay.

A new study showcases how climate change is making hurricanes more dangerous and farther-reaching. Hurricanes that form above warmer waters in higher atmospheric temperatures can carry more moisture, the team explains, which allows them to keep raging stronger and for longer after reaching dry land. The problem is only going to get worse if climate change continues unabated and mean temperatures keep increasing.

Stormy futures

“The implications are very important, especially when considering policies that are put in place to cope with global warming,” said Professor Pinaki Chakraborty, senior author of the study and head of the Fluid Mechanics Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST).

“We know that coastal areas need to ready themselves for more intense hurricanes, but inland communities, who may not have the know-how or infrastructure to cope with such intense winds or heavy rainfall, also need to be prepared.”

The link between climate change and more powerful hurricanes is already well documented, with previous research showing that they’re becoming more intense over the open ocean. This is the first study to look at how climate change makes these storms — also known as typhoons — behave after they reach dry land.

The team looked at hurricanes in the North Atlantic that made landfall throughout the last five decades. On the first day after reaching dry land, the storms weaken roughly twice as slowly today as they did 50 years ago, the team explains.

They further explored the mechanisms behind this behavior in a series of computer simulations of four hurricanes in different sea surface temperature contexts. Once these simulated hurricanes reached Category 4 strength, the team simulated their making landfall by turning off any upwelling moisture.

“When we plotted the data, we could clearly see that the amount of time it took for a hurricane to weaken was increasing with the years. But it wasn’t a straight line — it was undulating — and we found that these ups and downs matched the same ups and downs seen in sea surface temperature,” said Lin Li, first author and PhD student in the OIST Fluid Mechanics Unit.

Li adds that hurricanes are “heat engines, just like engines in cars”, where the fuel is moisture taken up from the surface of the ocean. The heat energy it carries intensifies and sustains the storm by powering winds. Once a hurricane reaches dry land, its fuel supply is cut, meaning it will eventually decay.

Although each hurricane in the simulation made landfall at the same intensity, those that formed over warmer oceans took more time to dampen down, the team explains. All in all, they write that “warmer oceans significantly impact the rate that hurricanes decay, even when their connection with the ocean’s surface is severed”.

Additional simulations showed that the moisture stored in each hurricane explained this inertia. They start weakening as this stored moisture starts depleting. Simulated hurricanes that weren’t allowed to store moisture showed no changes in their rate of decay relative to the surface temperatures of the water they formed over.

“This shows that stored moisture is the key factor that gives each hurricane in the simulation its own unique identity,” said Li. “Hurricanes that develop over warmer oceans can take up and store more moisture, which sustains them for longer and prevents them from weakening as quickly.”

More stored moisture also makes hurricanes “wetter”, meaning they release more rainfall over the areas they reach.

The authors explain that our current models don’t take into account hurricanes’ stored humidity, making them incomplete — which is why we haven’t yet understood the relationship between sea surface temperatures and the behavior of hurricanes over dry land.

The team is now working on studying hurricanes from other areas of the world to see whether climate change is impacting hurricane decay rates across the globe.

“Overall, the implications of this work are stark. If we don’t curb global warming, landfalling hurricanes will continue to weaken more slowly,” Prof. Chakraborty concludes. “Their destruction will no longer be confined to coastal areas, causing higher levels of economic damage and costing more lives.”

The paper “Slower decay of landfalling hurricanes in a warming world” has been published in the journal Nature.

Hurricanes are becoming faster, more frequent, and almost 40% of Americans are exposed to them

Tropical cyclones, also known as hurricanes or typhoons, have been moving ever faster since 1982, according to a new study.

Image in the public domain.

The research, led by members from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOEST), found that such storms have been steadily picking up pace in the last four decades. At the same time, it reports an uptick in hurricane frequency in the North Atlantic region over the same timeline, and that such storms are increasingly moving towards the poles in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Storms a-brewing

“For people in Hawai’i, the threat of hurricanes is always there every year,” said Pao-Shin Chu, atmospheric sciences professor at SOEST. “If hurricanes move faster they would pose danger to coastal communities and emergency managers because they would have less time to prepare for evacuation and other measures.”

The authors explain that such findings are incredibly important for the US as a whole, not just the islands of Hawai’i. Roughly 40% of the country’s total population lives in coastal areas, making them very vulnerable in the face of tropical storms and hurricanes.

The study looked at tropical cyclones since 1982, when reliable satellite data on the topic first became available. Using this data, they determined the frequency of cyclone formation, where they formed, and how their speeds evolved globally and by region. The speeds considered here are of translation, not rotation — i.e. how fast the storms are moving across the landscape, not how fast they’re turning around the eye of the storm.

“Given that TC [tropical cyclone] activity in the North Atlantic is closely related to the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation and a poleward shift of TC exposure is likely induced by global warming, the recent increase in the global-mean TC translation speed is a joint outcome of both natural variations and anthrophonic effects,” the paper reads.

All in all, the translation speed of tropical cyclones has increased by roughly 0.31 km h−1 per decade over the last four decades. Such storms are also increasingly moving away from the equator towards the poles, so areas that weren’t traditionally exposed to hurricanes might need to prepare for such events in the future.

The paper “An increase in global trends of tropical cyclone translation speed since 1982 and its physical causes” has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Hurricane Marie is increasing in strength off the coast of California

NASA announces that Hurricane Marie, off the Californian coast, is rapidly growing more intense.

Image credits: NOAA.

Infrared images captured by the Agency’s satellites show that the hurricane’s eye is surrounded by massive thunderstorms as Marie makes its way through the Eastern Pacific. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center (NOAA – NHC) says Marie will grow to become a major hurricane sometime on the 1st of October.

Along comes Marie

“Recent microwave data and satellite images indicate that Marie has become much better organized over the past several hours, with a nearly completely closed eye noted in a (12:51 a.m. EDT) 0451Z AMSU composite microwave overpass,” explained NHC Hurricane Specialist Andrew Latto at 5 a.m. EDT on Oct 1.

One of the main tools we have to monitor hurricanes is infrared sweeps performed by NASA’s satellites. These images can be used to infer local temperatures throughout the storm, and this, in turn, can be used to determine where it rages the strongest (stronger storms reach higher into the troposphere, making their upper layers colder).

NASA’s Aqua satellite found that the strongest storms coalesce around Hurricane Marie’s center, where temperatures reached negative 62 Celsius (-80 Fahrenheit). Clouds with upper temperatures of around minus 56.6 Celsius (-70 degrees Fahrenheit) surround these central storms.

Such temperatures suggest cold storms that can create a lot of rain, NOAA adds. At a.m. EDT (0900 UTC), the center of Hurricane Marie was located around 1,245 km (775 mi) southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, and moving at a steady 28 km/h (17 mph). NOAA expects it to continue on its path and speed until tomorrow when it will turn west-northwest and slow down.

The maximum sustained wind speed in the storm is around 150 km/h (90mph), NOAA adds, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 30km (15 mi) out from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 110 km (70 miles) away.

Hurricanes are getting stronger — and climate change is likely to blame

Extreme weather events are becoming the new normal in many parts of the world and climate change is largely behind it. The number and strength of heatwaves and major hurricanes, among many other events, has increased. But more research is still needed to explore the phenomenon.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

That’s especially applicable to tropical storms, such as hurricanes, typhoons, or tropical cyclones, depending on the strength and the ocean basin where they’re located. The tools used to study them frequently change, which makes it difficult to make comparisons.

Working with almost 40 years of infrared satellite images, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Center for Environmental Information and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that climate change has made hurricanes more severe across the world — carrying more powerful and sustained winds.

“The main hurdle we have for finding trends is that the data are collected using the best technology at the time,” James Kossin, an NOAA scientist and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. “Every year the data are a bit different than last year, each new satellite has new tools and captures data in different ways.”

Kossin had already identified trends in the intensity of the hurricanes in a period of 28 years, going from 1982 to 2009. But the dataset wasn’t that conclusive and more studies were needed to obtain more robust results. This time, Kossin and colleagues added 10 extra years of satellite data.

Satellites that orbit around the Earth measure many hurricane features to estimate their intensity. The researchers used various techniques to account for the differences in the data caused by advances in the technology of recollection – such as higher resolution.

They had to discard images from newer satellites that provided views of hurricanes from angles that weren’t available before, as well as of old satellites that couldn’t be adapted. This left them with a massive dataset of 225,000 images of a similar quality of about 4,000 hurricanes from around the world.

Working with the dataset, the researchers found a rise in the proportion of major hurricanes. “There’s a clear shift toward greater intensity that manifests as increased probabilities of exceeding major intensity,” the study said.

8% increase in hurricane intensity with each new decade

The study showed that the chances of a hurricane of having Category 3 or higher wind speeds increased by 15% between the first and last halves of the analyzed data. This corresponded to about an 8% increase per decade over the period of study. The proportion of all hurricanes exceeding major-hurricane intensity showed an increase of 6% per decade.

The dataset was also categorized by location, in an attempt to understand the changes from region to region. The North Atlantic Ocean showed high rates of increase in hurricane intensity from 1979 to 2017.

“The probability of major hurricane exceedance increased by 49% per decade,” the study said.

Nevertheless, the authors noted that the trend in the North Atlantic Ocean isn’t fully clear yet due to external factors such as aerosols, African dust and volcanic activity. At the same time, the magnitude and significance of the trends among individual ocean basins varied considerably, according to the study.

The findings don’t dismiss the possibility that the increase in hurricanes isn’t the result of a perfect coincidence of other trends, the researchers said. But it shows the growth is actually happening during the period of greatest warming seen by the world in modern times.

“It’s a good step forward and increases our confidence that global warming has made hurricanes stronger, but our results don’t tell us precisely how much of the trends are caused by human activities and how much may be just natural variability,” Kossin said in a statement.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

Hurricanes are getting stronger, bigger and more dangerous due to climate change

One of the most visible consequences of the climate emergency is an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. Hurricanes are a clear example: they strike harder and more often than they used to, according to a new study.

Image credits: Wikipedia Commons

Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen showed that hurricanes have become more destructive since 1900, and the worst of them are more than three times as frequent now than 100 years ago.

The study, published in the journal PNAS, used a new method to calculate the destruction caused by hurricanes which compensate for the societal change in wealth. The method “unequivocally” shows hurricanes have become more frequent, the experts said.

In the past, researchers used to survey the cost of the damage caused by each hurricane. This led to linking the damages with population growth, expansion of wealth and growing infrastructure costs. But there was one element that was becoming more evident and wasn’t being highlighted: the climate variable.

Aslak Grinsted, Peter Ditlevsen, and Jens Hesselbjerg decided to focus on other areas than economic damage. They used insurance industry databases to look at the land destroyed by a group of 240 storms between 1900 and 2018, which made them realize the importance of the effect of the climate.

“The new method of looking at the frequencies is really robust,” said Aslak Grinsted, from the University of Copenhagen. “The increase in frequency is not only in my own dataset but is also present in other datasets, so it is extremely robust, and I think that will help it become more accepted.”

For example, they found that Hurricane Irma, which affected Florida in 2017, caused total destruction of 2.300 squared kilometers. They reached the figure by estimating the number of people living in the area affected by the hurricane, their wealth and the overall damage.

The researchers calculated similar figures for hurricanes across the last century and made comparisons in terms of damage over the decades. They discovered that the frequency of the most damaging hurricanes had increased 330% per century, a finding they argue to be linked to rising temperatures.

Climate change and extreme weather events

Human-induced climate change has triggered many changes in the Earth’s climate, with extreme weather events on top of the list such as heatwaves, droughts, hurricanes, and cyclones.

In the US, over the last 50 years, there have been increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, and in some regions, severe floods and droughts.

And this is due to worsen. Research indicates that climate change will lead to a significant rise in the frequency and severity of extreme heat across the US in the coming decades, as the climate warms.

Ocean temperatures will also increase, and this will lead to an increase in the intensity of hurricanes. The warmer the temperature of the sea surface that a hurricane is moving over, the stronger the storm will become.

Hurricanes trigger ‘stormquakes’ on the bottom of the ocean

Hurricane Irene was the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season. When it struck the U.S. East Coast, its path crossed areas populated by more than 50 million Americans. It also generated thousands of ‘stormquakes’ in its wake. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

A hurricane and earthquake happening at the same time sound like an unlikely combo — but at the bottom of the ocean, it isn’t. According to a new study, it’s quite common for a powerful hurricane to cause the seafloor to rumble like a 3.5-magnitude earthquake.

Researchers call this phenomenon a ‘stormquake’. They occur when a large storm forms above the ocean, triggering a secondary wave that interacts with the seafloor. The interaction causes the seafloor to shake, primarily when it is flat and over a large continental shelf.

“During a storm season, hurricanes or nor’easters transfer energy into the ocean as strong ocean waves, and the waves interact with the solid earth producing intense seismic source activity,” said Wenyuan Fan, an assistant professor of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University and lead author of the new study.

A new geophysical phenomenon

There’s no need to worry, though. Although powerful tsunamis such as those that struck Japan in 2011 are formed when an earthquake occurs on the seafloor, stormquakes are simply too weak to pose a threat. In fact, they represent a new useful seismic source that scientists can use to investigate the planet’s structure, especially in locations where we lack seismic instruments or earthquakes. Moreover, they can be used to study ocean wave dynamics during large storms, which ultimately should improve forecasting in the future.

“We can have seismic sources in the ocean just like earthquakes within the crust,” Fan said. “The exciting part is seismic sources caused by hurricanes can last from hours to days.”

The study, which was published was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, notes that 14,077 stormquakes have been recorded between 2006 and 2015. Hurricane Ike, which struck the Caribbean Islands and Texas in 2008, and Hurricane Irene, which washed on the East Coast, created the most stormquakes in their path.

But, not all hurricanes lead to stormquakes. The massively powerful Hurricane Sandy barely generated one, suggesting that local oceanographic features and seafloor topography are essential to their formation. No stormquake was detected off the coast of Mexico or the U.S. East Coast from New Jersey to Georgia.

“We have lots of unknowns,” Fan said. “We weren’t even aware of the existence of the natural phenomenon. It really highlights the richness of the seismic wave field and suggests we are reaching a new level of understanding of seismic waves.”

US citizens see weather disasters worsening, according to new poll

In line with scientists’ findings, about three-quarters of United States citizens consider that weather disasters are now worsening, most of them blaming global warming to some extent, according to a new survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

US President Donald Trump looks at the trajectory of the recent Dorian hurricane. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The study, carried out in mid-August before the Dorian hurricane, showed 72 percent of Americans think catastrophic weather is more severe, while 4 percent see it as less nasty. About one-quarter say those disasters are about as extreme as they always were.

At the same time, half of those who think weather disasters are worsening said it’s mainly because of man-made climate change, with another 37 percent who think natural randomness and global warming are equally to blame.

Most of the adults across demographic groups think weather disasters are getting more severe, according to the poll. College-educated US citizens are slightly more likely than those without a degree to say so, 79 percent versus 69 percent.

There were wide differences in assessments by partisanship. Nine in 10 Democrats think weather disasters are more extreme, compared with about half of Republicans. Also, those surveyed are slightly more likely to say disasters are more severe when compared with a similarly worded question asked after hurricanes in 2013 and 2017.

The unveiling of the results comes only a week after the Dorian hurricane arrived in the Caribbean and the US. Dorian wiped out neighborhoods in the northern Bahamas, leaving at least 43 people dead. It then closed in on the southeastern coast of the United States, where five deaths have been blamed on the storm so far.

According to data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), about 36 hurricanes have hit the U.S. from 1995 to 2017, 13 of which have been considered major hurricanes, or a Category 3 or above, at the time when they made landfall.

One of the most visible consequences of a warming world is an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. The US National Climate Assessment found that the number of heatwaves, heavy downpours, and major hurricanes has increased and the strength of these events has increased, too.

At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said intensifying climate change will make extreme weather events more likely. They stated that it is “virtually certain” (99-100% probability) that more regions in the world would experience increases in warmer days and a decrease in colder days.

Hurricane Dorian devastates Bahamas, reaches Florida

Hurricane Dorian slammed into Florida with 110mph winds after devastating the Bahamas. Americans in its path told to leave their homes and remain vigilant over the upcoming days.

Credit: Flickr

The mega-storm reached 225mph as it hovered over the Caribbean, killing at least seven people and causing massive destruction of homes, crippling hospitals and forcing people to take cover in attics.

It has now moved on to the US mainland, sparking a mass evacuation with more than two million people in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina being told to flee. It began moving up the shore with its eye passing 95 miles east of Cape Canaveral in the early hours of this morning.

But even if the storm’s epicenter doesn’t make landfall, Americans were warned the storm surge would likely cause severe flooding up the east coast.

“All interests from northeast Florida to the Carolinas should remain vigilant to the possibility of experiencing destructive winds, flooding rains, and life-threatening storm surges from this hurricane,” the hurricane center said.

Hurricane-force winds extend up to 60 miles from its center, while tropical-storm-force winds can be felt up to 175 miles from the core. The US coast from north of West Palm Beach, Florida, through Georgia, is expected to get up to nine inches of rainfall in places.

Across the southeastern US, motorways leading away from beaches in South Carolina and Georgia were turned into one-way evacuation routes. Several airports announced closings, and 823 flights within, into and out of the U.S. were so far canceled, according to FlightAware, an aviation data company.

In Florida, Walt Disney World closed its four theme parks by mid-afternoon on Tuesday amid fears for tourist safety, vowing to reopen today. Universal Orlando Resort also closed its theme parks early for the day because of the threat of the vicious storm.

Whatever the exact tract that the hurricane takes in the coming days, “life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds” are expected along with parts of Florida’s east coast and Georgia and the Carolinas, the hurricane center said.

Dorian smashed into the Bahamas on Monday as a 225mph category 5 Hurricane that parked over the area.  Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told reporters the latest death count of seven included two people who were injured earlier and taken to New Providence Island.

Minnis said he flew over the Abaco Islands and expects to do the same in Grand Bahama as soon as the weather clears. In Abaco, he saw groups of desperate and trapped people waving yellow sheets and shirts. He said 60 percent of homes were damaged in Marsh Harbor.

Hurricane Dorian hits the Bahamas as it approaches the United States

Described as the strongest storm so far this year, hurricane Dorian is causing catastrophic damage as it makes its way across the Bahamas. The storm has already claimed at least one life and is expected to begin trudging toward the mainland US later in the day.

Credit: Flickr

The Category 5 storm made landfall on the eastern end of Grand Bahama Island Sunday night and will continue to pound the island for most of Monday as it creeps toward the southeastern US coast.

The death of an 8-year-old boy is being reported by local media outlets.  The boy’s grandmother, Ingrid McIntosh, said that her grandson died on Abaco island. She said her 31-year-old daughter found the body of her son, who she believed drowned in the rising waters.

The storm had winds of 165 mph while it was 115 miles east of West Palm Beach early Monday. It will get close to Florida’s east coast Monday night through Wednesday evening. But the state has already begun to feel Dorian’s effects, as wind picked up throughout the day.

As it pummeled islands in the Bahamas, the hurricane left behind “catastrophic damage,” Hope Town Volunteer Fire & Rescue said. The damage was reported in Elbow Cay, Man-o-War and Marsh Harbour in the Abaco Islands, where buildings were destroyed and many were partially submerged, with water flooding all around them.

The Abaco Islands are a group of islands and barrier cays in the northern Bahamas, east of southern Florida. Dorian made landfall there as a Category 5 hurricane just after noon Sunday. The northwestern Bahamas will be drenched in up to 24 inches of rain, with some areas expecting up to 30 inches of water, the hurricane center said.

The terrifying storm could be making its way toward the East Coast of the United States, but it’s still unclear if Dorian will make landfall and where on the mainland US. The hurricane’s forecasted track shifted east Friday, making a Florida landfall less likely, but not impossible.

Models now show the storm skirting along Florida’s coast Tuesday and then next to Georgia late Tuesday and into Wednesday. But just because the center of the storm may not hit land doesn’t mean there won’t be damage. Early Monday, hurricane-force winds from the storm extended outward up to 45 miles.

Heavy rains and life-threatening floods are expected in parts of the southeast and lower mid-Atlantic US later this week. The storm will dump up to 6 inches of rain in Florida through Georgia. A coastal flood advisory was issued early Monday for South Carolina and Georgia by the National Weather Service, which warned of a high rip current.

Evacuation orders were in place for 13 Florida counties as of Monday morning, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The agency urged residents who were in areas not under mandatory evacuations to “plan for adequate supplies in case you lose power & water for several days.”

“To see a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane closing in our 3rd most populous state is wildly unnerving,” FEMA Strategic Planner Michael Lowry said on Twitter. “Dorian is already a disaster for so many tonight. Please, please heed the warnings of local officials in the hours ahead.”

More than 900 flights were canceled going in and out of Florida airports, according to data from Flightaware.com. The Orlando Melbourne International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport will suspend commercial flights and close terminals at noon Monday.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp ordered mandatory evacuations Sunday night across six coastal counties east of Interstate 95. Possible downed trees, power lines, debris and flooding as well as roads and bridges possibly becoming impassable were reasons behind the evacuations, the order said.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also ordered the evacuation of coastal South Carolina residents starting at noon on Monday. Christy Hall, the secretary of South Carolina’s Department of Transportation, said the agency has more than 2,200 employees working on hurricane plans.

Hurricane Dorian intensifies and heads towards the US

Dorian is no longer a tropical storm and was now upgraded to a hurricane, impacting Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The hurricane could soon turn into a major cyclone, with a good chance of slamming Florida’s Atlantic Coast by Labor Day.

Florida gets ready for the arrival of Dorian. Credit: Flickr

Dorian is now moving northwest in the Atlantic with sustained winds of up to 85 mph. By Friday it should strengthen, smack the northern Bahamas on Sunday and likely crash somewhere along the Florida or Georgia coasts on Monday with sustained winds around 125 mph.

“People have got to be ready before Sunday,” Ken Graham, director of the United States National Hurricane Center, said.

The affected areas in the US will feel tropical-storm force winds — at least 39 mph — on Sunday. And the center could pause before it runs into the land — potentially whipping cities with inches and inches of rain an hour.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis already declared a state of emergency for 26 counties and urged all residents on the coast to get ready for the storm.

“It’s important for Floridians on the East Coast to monitor this storm closely,” DeSantis said. “Every Florida resident should have seven days of supplies, including food, water, and medicine, and should have a plan in case of disaster.”

Dorian has cleared the Caribbean Sea, but not before lashing the British and US Virgin Islands — first as a tropical storm and then as a Category 1 hurricane — on Wednesday.

Local authorities declared a state of emergency as trees toppled and power lines went down on the islands.

And while the storm was strong, the response was swift. Restoration processes began around 4 p.m. local time in the St. Thomas and St. John districts, and about 25,000 power outages in St. Croix were restored around 7 p.m. local time Wednesday, Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Director of Communications Jean Greaux said.

“Within an hour of its passage, The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority mobilized crews to conduct a damage assessment. We immediately commenced restoration of service. Crews are now dispersed addressing isolated or pocket outages in a few locations,” Greaux said.

President Trump approved an emergency declaration in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday night. The president had declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico on Tuesday ahead of the storm’s expected arrival.

Wutip becomes earliest ever super-typhoon, with gusts over 180 mph

During the past few days, the world has been hit with some of the most unusual weather ever. In the UK, warm Mediterranean air masses pushed temperatures to unprecedented peaks, while in the US was hit by flash floods in Tennessee and a massive blizzard storm in the northern plains. Now, another freak weather event is set to hit US territory: Wutip is set to become the earliest super-typhoon in recorded history, hitting Guam with gusts of up to 180 mph (289 km/h).

The typhoon started as low-pressure just south of the Marshall Islands on February 16. It then began to gradually pick up steam while moving westward, finally receiving the name Wutip from the Japan Meteorological Agency on February 20. A day later, Wutip strengthened a severe tropical storm, before intensifying further into a typhoon later that day. It continued to intensify, reaching what was initially predicted to be its peak as a Category 4-equivalent.

But Wutip continued to surprise meteorologists, blowing up into a full Category 5 super-typhoon, becoming the strongest February storm of any kind ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. Sustained winds reached 160 mph (257 km/h).

February typhoons are extremely unusual. The last such storm to brush by Guam was Irma in 1953 — thankfully, the island escaped with minimal damage at the time.

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite provided an infrared look at Typhoon Wutip on February 21, 2019. Image credits: NASA/NOAA/Williams Straka III/UWM/CIMSS.

Wutip continues its movement towards the Philippines, but thankfully, the storm’s intensity has decreased substantially. In order for such a storm to continue picking up steam, it would need warm ocean waters and weak upper winds — which are a rare occurrence in February. Even the level it reached was extremely unlikely to start with. While previous research has shown that climate change makes extreme weather more likely and tends to exacerbate big storms, there’s no evidence yet to suggest that Wutip is directly connected to climate change.

A typhoon is a mature tropical cyclone that develops in the Northern Hemisphere between 180° and 100°E. Typhoons are differentiated from other major storms (such as a cyclone or a storm) solely on the basis of location. Typhoons occur in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, whereas hurricanes occur in the northeastern Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean.

A hurricane is a storm that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean or the northeastern Pacific Ocean, a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and a tropical cyclone occurs in the south Pacific or the Indian Ocean. There are several scales used for classifying these storms, but most common is the Saffir Simpson wind scale, which classifies storms on a scale of 1 (least severe) to 5 (most severe). This scale estimates potential property damage. Category 5 storms can cause catastrophic damage, tearing down house roofs and collapsing walls and trees. These storms have wind speeds of 157 mph (252 km/h) or higher.

A storm even more dangerous than Florence is brewing in Asia — and it’s about to hit land

While the world’s eyes are zoomed in on the US East coast, where 1.7 million people are told to evacuate in order to avoid Hurricane Florence damage, a much stronger storm is lashing out at Southeast Asia: Mangkhut.

Animation from CNN Weather.

Super Typhoon Mangkhut deserves all the superlatives it can get. By far the strongest storm of the season, it is already causing sustained winds of up to 127 mph (204 km/h) and gusts of up to 158 mph (254 km/h). In terms of total intensity, Mangkhut is more dangerous than Florence, but the overall damage will depend on what it hits. If it hits land directly, it could cause tremendous damage.

Although Florence, will hit areas with more costly infrastructure (including several nuclear plants), Mangkhut has stronger winds, a higher storm surge, and an overall larger area — meaning that it threatens to pose a much more serious threat to life. Already, the Asian hurricane broke right through the Marshall Islands and Guam, a US territory, leaving much of Guam without electricity, destroying houses and electricity poles, uprooting trees, and flooding large areas.

Right now, it seems that the Philippines are next in line to be hit by Mangkhut. Already, people have begun evacuating, closing schools, and preparing for the worst. Even down in Hong Kong, people are stockpiling food and placing sandbags in front of their shops and houses to prevent some of the flooding.

Southeast Asia is also expecting another storm: Tropical Storm Barijat. However, at least so far, this is a much smaller and less intense storm than Mangkhut or Florence. As of Thursday morning, Barijat was moving across the western Pacific Ocean with a wind speed of 29 mph (47 km/h), according to Cyclocane, a storm-tracking website. Even so, China has already evacuated 12,000 people from its low-lying coastal areas, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

There is still a chance that the hurricane will only marginally hit land, and avoid some of the populated areas. But, for now, things aren’t looking good.

Hurricane sim.

New hurricane animation from the Weather Channel is insanely realistic — and very beautiful

Usually, the weather report is just about the most boring thing you can see on TV, but in the case of this particular report, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It starts out pretty normally, with meteorologist Erika Navarro highlighting areas in North Carolina at risk from Hurricane Florence’s storm surge. The storm surge, which could reach above 9 feet (2.7 meters) in coastal and inland riverside areas, is probably the most dangerous aspect of the hurricane.

But not long after that, the magic starts to happen: the screen behind Navarro becomes the surge itself, and suddenly, we’re transported into the middle of the hurricane, seeing a sci-fi-like section of what the damage will likely look like. You have to see it for yourself.

 

Aside from being a really impressive technical feat, this Weather Channel animation is more than just a pretty picture — it could very well save lives. Most weather reports and news focus on the wind and rain aspects of storms, but, according to data from the US National Hurricane Center, the storm surge is what’s most likely to kill people.

The problem with storm surges is that they can cause devastating floods on very short notice, right after (or sometimes, even before) the actual hurricane hits. Sure, that may not sound as scary as crazy wind speeds, but this is exactly where this segment helps: it shows how easy it is to get trapped by the incoming water, and how it feels to be suddenly in the middle of it all.

For instance, a 3-foot (0.9-meter) surge could easily knock you off your feet, and even start moving cars around, Navarro explains, surrounded by the virtual water. At 6 feet (1.8 meters), the water is enough to cover her, and things really get dangerous: the surging water could contain dangerous debris such as chemicals, exposed wires, or pieces of infrastructure.

Hurricane Florence is expected to cause surges of up to 9 feet (2.7 meters). That’s absolutely a life-threatening scenario which should be avoided if at all possible.

“If you find yourself here please get out,” says Navarro. “If you’re told to go, you need to go.”

If you think that sounds unrealistic, you probably haven’t heard of 1954’s Hurricane Hazel, which caused 17-foot (5.2-meter) floodwater lines, killing 400 people in Haiti, 95 in the US, and 81 in Canada.

Florence is not a storm to be taken lightly, and there’s a very good chance that it’s reached its current magnitude thanks to a boost from climate change — as this global shift continues to unfold, we can likely expect many storms like Florence in the upcoming period. Please, everyone, stay safe!

Florence wide lens 2.

Astronaut tweets incredible pictures of Hurricane Florence heading for the US East Coast

From the lens of Alexander Gerst, a German astronaut currently aboard the ISS, comes a dire warning: “Watch out, America!”

Grest (Twitter link), who joined the International Space Station crew back in June, tweeted some awesome and terrifying pictures of Hurricane Florence sprawled over the planet under his feet. “Watch out, America!”, the tween also warned, “this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you”.

Eye of the storm

Hurricane Florence is currently a Category 4 storm making a beeline for the US East coast. The storm’s effects are predicted to make themselves felt throughout South and North Carolina starting Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Undeniably enormous, and frightfully powerful, the storm has captured the imagination of astronauts watching over it from orbit. Grest shot multiple pictures of the storm and posted them online for all the world to see its beauty and fury both.

Florence wide lens.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

Florence wide lens 2.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

The storm is so massive, Gerst explained in his Tweet, that he “could only capture her with a super wide-angle lens”. Hurricane Florence is currently over 500 miles (804 kilometers) in diameter.

Gerst also used a high-power telephoto lens to zoom in on the storm’s eye as the station passed overhead.

Storm eye 1.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

Storm eye 2.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

Storm eye 3.

Image credits Alexander Gerst / ESA via Twitter.

“Get prepared on the East Coast,” Gerst warned when Tweeting the photo.

NASA also recorded “stark and sobering” video footage of Florence from the space station on Wednesday:

Anolis scriptus. Credit: Colin Donihue.

Hurricane-braving lizards get to grips with natural selection

Anolis scriptus. Credit: Colin Donihue.

Anolis scriptus. Credit: Colin Donihue.

Scientists have found an example of natural selection in action during unexpected circumstances: in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane, lizards that were better equipped for clinging onto branches were more likely to survive and, hence, pass on their genes.

Hurricanes can be devastating to ecosystems, causing many premature deaths and ruining habitats. Although it can be heartbreaking to lose one’s home and belongings, most of the time humans are able to evacuate in time before a hurricane beats on their doorstep. Some animals can sense the danger and flee or fly away, but many get trapped in the eye of the storm. For instance, the red-cockaded woodpeckers in South Carolina’s Marion National Forest were almost wiped out by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  About 60 percent of the 500 groups of birds perished and 87 percent of the trees containing cavities where they lived were destroyed.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which hit the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands in September 2017, were even more powerful and devastating. Colin Donihue and colleagues at Harvard University had, incidentally, just finished their survey of anole lizards (Anolis scriptus) on the adjacent West Indies islands of Pine and Water Cay, located on the eastern end of Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas.

The scientists decided this was an excellent opportunity to study the direct impact of natural disasters on the local wildlife, so they decided to immediately return to the islands once the storm cleared.

The team focused on the difference in limb length and toepad surface area of the lizard populations before and after the hurricanes. These characteristics are believed to be critical to the animals’ clinging abilities and have been associated with habitat use and mode of locomotion.

Interestingly, the lizards that survived the hurricane onslaught on both islands had significantly larger toe pads and forelimbs, and shorter hind limbs than the population surveyed prior to the storm.

This comparative advantage among the A. scriptus surviving population is illustrated by a video filmed by the researchers, which shows how lizards grip branches. Longer forelimbs allow the lizards to have a better grip on tree branches, making them more resilient in the face of hurricane winds. However, the researchers note that the posture that the lizards adopt when braving powerful winds is also important — and in this situation having longer back legs would be a disadvantage because they increase the surface area that can be blown by the winds.

Essentially, what the researchers just witnessed is a fine example of natural selection in action. These surviving lizards will breed and, as such, the two islands will be filled with populations where there are more individuals that are able to withstand a hurricane. Some animals, however, aren’t as lucky because whole populations can be wiped out during natural disasters before they have the time to adapt.

Climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of natural calamities such as hurricanes in the future. Studies like these allow scientists to gain a better understanding of evolutionary dynamics, which we’ll need to factor in when preparing for climate change mitigation action.  

The findings appeared in the journal Nature.

Send tesla.

Musk says Puerto Rico’s power grid could be built from the ground up with solar and battery packs

In the wake of two hurricanes, Puerto Rico’s power grid was blasted back to the stone age. In an effort to return power to the people who need it, Tesla has been shipping Powerwalls over to the island. Now, CEO Elon Musk says the company might rebuild the entire power grid, scaling up their battery-and-solar model to service the entire state.

Even before disaster hit, Puerto Rico wasn’t in the best place energy-wise — electricity rates were already quite high, at about US$0.20/kWh, and was drawn almost entirely from fossil fuels. Of course, this situation hardly improved after two hurricanes battered the island within weeks of one another. Change, however, begets opportunity. After it was pointed out that Puerto Rico’s destroyed grid offers the chance to build a new, better one, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter:

Musk is referring to battery-and-solar projects Tesla recently deployed to other islands, such as Kauai (where the company installed a very impressive Powerpack) or the American Samoa (where they set up a battery and solar panel microgrid). These projects are meant to supply small populations, granted, but Musk always insisted they’re easily scalable and could potentially power larger islands, or entire continents.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, later offered to talk through the idea with Musk.

However, this renewable grid would not be immune to subsequent disasters. Puerto Rico would still use power lines to feed larger users, which can be snapped by a hurricane, to serve larger groups of users, and the generators themselves would also be quite vulnerable. Some of Puerto Rico’s previous wind and solar farms were badly damaged in the recent hurricanes, amplifying the island’s energy woes. However, Tesla’s grid would be harder to knock out completely. By relying on solar generation instead of fossil fuels, it can be spread throughout an area, improving the odds that at least some parts will remain online and that normal operations can be resumed more quickly in the event of a natural disaster.

Tesla is already making efforts to restart Puerto Rico’s grid. The company’s home battery pack, the Powerwall, is being shipped to Puerto Rico to allow homeowners with existing rooftop solar panels to connect to these battery packs instead of the power grid in order to power their homes — or even communities. It’s more of a patch than a fix, however. Local installers are often difficult to get a hold of, and some are charging up to $12,000 for a Powerwall and its installation. Tesla’s website says that the Powerwall and the supporting hardware costs $6,200, with a “typical installation cost ranges from $800 to $2,000.

Given the outrageous third-party costs involved here, it’s no surprise that locals are increasingly turning to car batteries and inverters, which are both highly inefficient and increasingly rare in Puerto Rico.

Overall, the plight of Puerto Rico offers a great opportunity for renewable energy to flex its muscles. However, we mustn’t forget that this situation impacts real people, with very real consequences. Action — any action — is needed, and sooner rather than later.