Post-Eclipse Disasters

The Great American eclipse of 2017 was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, surreal and peaceful, but since then it seems the world has been ravaged by several natural disasters.

From monstrous wildfires to record-breaking hurricanes, these disasters have torn apart communities, even states, and in some cases, have prompted a global response.

The longest lasting disaster this summer was the California wildfires. The 2017 fire season was devastating, with wildfires burning for months on end throughout northern California. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, 8,442 fires have burned over 1,087,639 acres. And according to the Los Angeles Times, up to 10,000 firefighters had to focus on multiple fires simultaneously, such as the large Atlas, Nuns and Tubbs fires, all within 40 miles of each other. Those combatting the flames worked around the clock and in 12-hour shifts. 9News reported that Colorado’s Office of Emergency Mangagement even sent 22 trucks and 85 firefighters to California to help with the efforts. Electrical lines and wire are thought to have been the leading cause of the fires, and whipping winds helped to quickly spread the flames. Total damage from the Californian fires has been enormous: the Los Angeles Times wrote that 15 insurers estimate that re-building northern California could be as expensive as $3.3 billion.

In contrast with the fires, the southeast U.S. saw a mass influx of rainfall from hurricane season, which started with Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 storm that hit southern Texas hard, affecting primarily the Houston metro area. Harvey’s winds peaked at 134 mph, but it wasn’t the wind that caused 77 fatalities; the most dangerous part of this storm was the extreme amount of rainfall. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the city saw five to ten inches of rain in a 48 hour period. By contrast, Harvey produced over 60 inches of rainfall, and the floods from the 77 million gallons of water it dumped on Houston have caused vast amounts of damage, which Fortune claims are worth at least $180 billion.

After Harvey was Hurricane Irma, a category 5 monster that struck a strand of Caribbean islands and Florida and lasted from Aug. 30 to Sept. 17. Irma prompted the largest mass evacuation in U.S. history — 6 million people were advised to evacuate, but some stayed in order to avoid becoming stranded on the roads. Winds up to 183 mph coupled with the sheer size of the storm — about 425 miles wide, making it the largest Atlantic storm in history — caused 134 fatalities and a repair price tag of $300 billion, according to Fortune.

The final, and arguably most destructive storm this season was Hurricane Maria, which lasted from Sept. 16 to Oct. 3. This category 5 hurricane sliced directly through Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds and killed 51 people, according to CNN. In addition to the storm itself, Puerto Rico suffered considerably in the aftermath due to a minimal amount of external aid. Already facing a debt-driven economic crisis, Maria has compounded Puerto Rico’s problems by setting the government back $45 to 90 billion according to Moody’s Analytics. Many areas won’t have power for months, and hospitals that are being powered by generators will soon run out of fuel to help keep life-saving equipment turned on. Since Puerto Rico is an island, supplies need to be flown or shipped in, which has intensified the effects of an already slow response.

The year of 2017 was a noteworthy year for earthquakes in Mexico. The first of the three deadly quakes was centered near the Mexico-Guatemala border and had a magnitude of 8.2 (the largest ever recorded was a 9.5). It caused more than 90 deaths, but the next one, with a 7.1 magnitude, struck just southeast of Mexico City; and because of its proximity to the city, this quake was far deadlier, killing upwards of 370 people. The final quake was centered in Oaxaca and was a powerful aftershock of the 8.2 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier in the month. According to the Insurance Journal, the total cost of the quakes was roughly $2 billion.

It seems as if 2017 has been filled with more natural disasters than normal, but Forbes suggests that this impression might not necessarily be true. Mexico is near fault lines, so more likely than not, it’s just chance of tectonic plate shifts that caused the horrible earthquakes there. The hurricanes though, have actually seen an increase — not in number though, in percentage of category four and five storms. This is highly debated between climate scientists whether climate change has anything to do with the increase in powerful tropical storms, but since hurricanes form from warm tropical waters, warming waters would be predictive evidence of stronger storms.

-Conner David & Tyler Merchant

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