Will hurricane “Ida” become a climate wake-up call in the USA?

Never measured temperatures, hardly extinguishable forest fires and now hurricane “Ida”: In this summer of extremes, it dawns on many Americans that the climate catastrophe is no longer an issue of the future.

Photo series with 11 pictures

Sinks into Roland Emmerich’s disaster film “The Day After Tomorrow” from 2004 New York as a result of the climate crisis in chaos and meter-high tidal waves. The floods in the metropolis caused by Hurricane “Ida” now remind many Americans of the apocalyptic images from Hollywood. “The Day After Tomorrow” has become the present in 2021.

At least 13 people were killed in the hurricane in Louisiana and the neighboring state of Mississippi. At least 46 people died in the Northeast, including 23 in New Jersey, 16 in and around New York City, five in Pennsylvania, and one each in Connecticut and Maryland. In addition, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), at least eight tornadoes caused damage, mostly in New Jersey.

But it’s not just New York City, it’s not just the images of rushing rivers on the streets, cars drifting away and record rainfalls that are hardly comprehensible in their intensity. In the US, extreme weather events seem to have increased significantly in the recent past, a consequence of the accelerated global warming. While the west suffers heat waves and devastating forest fires, and more and more hurricanes and tornadoes are raging in the south, the northeast is sinking into one of the wettest summers in history.

Heat that arithmetically shouldn’t even exist

“Through the Climate change In many parts of the world, dry places become drier and wet regions wetter, “explains climate researcher Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The storm in New York now brings together several climate change-related factors.” Hurricanes and typhoons draw their energy from the surface temperature of the ocean. Due to global warming, we are increasing this surface temperature and thus making more energy available to the hurricanes, “Levermann continues. The hurricanes become stronger and strong hurricanes more numerous.

The impression that the number of extreme weather phenomena has recently increased significantly is supported by a study by the World Weather Organization (WMO). It had last reported that there were five times as many weather- or climate-related disasters between 2000 and 2009 than in the 1970s. Storms and floods make up almost 80 percent of these disasters.

The extreme North American summer had started with a heat wave, which according to researchers should not occur at all: almost 50 degrees were reached in some parts of the western United States and Canada – in some parts heat records were broken by four or five degrees. Climatologists then turned to the public in alarm: Even given the current rate of global warming, this is mathematically an event that is only likely to occur in one out of 1,000 years.

Buckled power lines in Reserve, Louisiana: Hurricane “Ida” was the fifth largest to hit the United States on record. (Source: Matt Slocum / AP / dpa)

California forest fires discolor New York skies

The scientists also had a possible, shocking explanation for this huge improbability: that climate change could have reached a threshold at which previously unimaginable weather extremes accumulate by leaps and bounds – an unforeseen climate escalation where millennial events would become normal. At the time, however, they stated that the data did not yet make this seem likely.

Last year, there were forest fires in California, Oregon and Washington on the US west coast, which experts described as unprecedented. And that year too, devastating fires raged. Moving smoke darkened the sky on the east coast of the United States thousands of kilometers away. The sun over New York – broken by particles of smoke – took on a red sheen and gave some people the feeling of being stuck in a Hollywood apocalypse.

After the Record water masses from New York, for which the US weather service had to invent new colors for the extreme values ​​on its graphics, Mayor Bill de Blasio presented himself to reporters on Thursday and concluded: “We are in a whole new world.” From now on, the city has to expect such storms on a permanent basis. At the same time, more must be done in the fight against Climate crisis be done.

Flooded streets in Philadelphia in the northeastern United States: Hurricane hit eight states Flooded streets in Philadelphia in the northeastern United States: Hurricane “Ida” hit eight states. (Source: Matt Rourke / AP / dpa)

Hurricanes are getting more frequent and stronger

He looked in the direction of Washington, where President Joe Biden spoke only a little later. He designated hurricane “Ida,” the remains of which flooded New York, became the fifth largest hurricane in the United States on record. Days later, around a million households were without electricity. The hurricane season in the Atlantic this year is extraordinary anyway. “Elsa” was the first Atlantic hurricane of the year at the beginning of July – and therefore unusually early.

The National Hurricane Center also spoke of “above-average activity in tropical cyclones” in August. Three hurricanes formed during the month, two of which were particularly strong, including “Ida”. Normally, one or two hurricanes would occur in August, with a particularly strong one only occurring every one or two years.

Meanwhile, Biden warned that forest fires, flash floods and super storms will occur more often in the future because of the climate crisis. “This is not about politics,” he said, referring to the highly polarized US politics. Hurricane “Ida” doesn’t care if someone is a Democrat or a Republican. “It’s a matter of life and death, and we’re all in the same boat,” said Biden. “We have to take action.”

“We are still ignoring the climate crisis”

But in the face of such words and Biden’s climate policy, which is in contrast to that of his predecessor Donald Trump activists can only shrug their shoulders. Even before the World Climate Conference in Glasgow in November, they do not see nearly enough movement to achieve the goal agreed in Paris in 2015 of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees as possible compared to pre-industrial times.

“It will be like any other conference,” said the Swede Greta Thunberg last said soberly. “We are still ignoring the climate crisis”. For many Americans, the most recent events are likely to be the clearest wake-up call yet.


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