Florida braces for hurricanes, with Surfside leading the way

Florida is bracing for what is expected to be a furious hurricane season, even as the state grapples with the trauma of the condominium collapse in the Miami suburb of Surfside.

Tropical Storm Elsa is expected to make landfall on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday, with meteorologists saying it could become a full-fledged hurricane at this point.

Meteorologists from the National Hurricane Center predicted hurricane conditions along the state’s west coast on Tuesday evening and early Wednesday.

“We are already in our fifth storm of the year and it is not until early July,” Allison Wing, assistant professor in the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Department, told The Hill. FSU.

This year’s hurricane season is expected to be above average, with up to three to five major hurricanes forecast to hit the United States. Overall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that 13 to 20 named storms and 6 to 10 hurricanes will threaten the United States.

Dmitry Dukhovskoy, associate researcher at the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University, said that if these projections end up being accurate, “we can expect 1 to 2 hurricanes that will directly impact Florida in 2021. “.

Hurricane season is always risky, but the context is different with the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South in Surfside.

Elsa has already had an impact on recovery efforts, and the collapse has raised new questions about the integrity of buildings along the coast that must survive South Florida conditions. Thirty-six people have so far been declared dead from the collapse and more than 100 people are still missing.

An intense storm season could pose additional risks to the state’s coastal infrastructure, according to Dukhovskoy, who said similar dangers exist in other areas of the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes will bring both strong winds and the flood risks associated with heavy rains and storm surges.

This can lead to immediate flood hazards, as well as longer-term negative effects, such as corrosion of materials by salt water, Dukhovskoy told The Hill.

“The latter is very dangerous because this impact might not be obvious. Nonetheless, flooding can trigger corrosion inside concrete structures and, after several years, could cause the building to collapse, ”he said.

Florida still faces hurricanes, but climate change is a regular cause for concern.

While experts say it’s difficult to definitively determine the most extreme hurricane seasons on climate change, the effects of climate change are visible in the storm impacts, Wing said.

“Rising sea levels due to global warming make us more vulnerable to coastal flooding,” she said. “Climate change also contributes to increased precipitation from hurricanes, so in a warmer atmosphere there is an ability to have more moisture in the air and therefore more moisture can fall in the form of rain.”

Climate change is also likely to amplify the intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms, Wing said, “because hurricanes get their energy from much of the heat on the ocean’s surface. [that is] trapped there, and we have a theory based on this energy cycle through the storm that predicts what can be the maximum intensity of a hurricane.

The theory, she added, argues that increased heat will in turn lead to more intense hurricanes.

“If there is more energy available to be extracted from the climate system by these storms, then they could intensify and / or grow larger using that energy,” said Corene Matayas, a geography professor specializing in tropical climatology at the ‘University of Florida.

After Hurricane Andrew of 1992 devastated South Florida, new structures were subject to more stringent building codes, especially when it came to roof safety.

Yet, said Matayas, “there are older structures that have not been improved.”

“You have the wind risk and the water risk,” she said of Florida buildings.

Matayas added that compound flooding, in which seawater at high levels is made worse by rainfall, is also increasingly a risk in coastal areas – something often linked to climate change.

This year, northern and north-central Florida have experienced heavy rainfall in recent weeks.

Mark Bourassa, professor of meteorology at the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University, told The Hill that the globe has experienced a period of above-average tropical cyclone activity. That doesn’t guarantee more active seasons or particularly severe impacts on Florida, he said, but it does make both more likely.

However, he noted that the heat content of the upper part of the ocean was also relatively warm.

As greenhouse gases prevent heat from leaving Earth’s atmosphere, the majority of the trapped heat ends up in the ocean, which has dramatically warmed Earth’s oceans in recent decades. According to Climate.gov, the rate of ocean heat gain from 1993 to 2019 increased from 0.55 to 0.79 watts per square meter.

This means that “in the absence of other considerations, storms are likely to be more intense”. Bourassa told The Hill. “Other considerations are important and may be more important than the heat content of the oceans, such as the vertical wind shear that impacts Elsa.”

Wind shear, or changes in wind speed and direction in a straight line, can disrupt hurricanes by essentially separating them and spreading a reduced impact over a wider area.

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