Hurricanes: How Cities Combat Extreme Weather
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concludes a substantial increase in the “intensity, frequency, and duration” of North Atlantic hurricanes since the early 1980s, especially for the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the North Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Although the analysis shows no apparent increase of hurricanes on other continents, this extreme weather creates considerable catastrophes around the world, causing damages on sectors ranging from residential safety to infrastructures.
Hurricanes and Climate Change
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) has attributed the increasing destructive potential of hurricanes to various climate change-related influences. Although there lacks a direct connection between hurricanes and climate change, as C2ES states, hurricanes are subject to climate change-related phenomenon, including the rising sea level and the warmer sea surface temperatures, which lead to higher wind speech and more precipitation. In addition, societal contributions, such as the rise of coastal development and population density, can complicate the resilience planning against hurricanes as well.
Resilience Planning in the US
The monetary cost and human casualties brought by hurricanes in the US have prompted many metropolitan cities to implement resilient investment into infrastructure and land use.
In Florida, North Carolina, and the Virgin Islands, legislators have passed building codes that demand buildings to meet high requirements in wind speeds. In order to reduce the loss under hurricanes, some cities have also been directing investment and development to areas less threatened by the extreme weather.
Nevertheless, many cities still face conflict between their short-term economic gains and potential future risks. In Houston, Texas, the city has been expanding its metropolitan areas by replacing wetland and waterways with infrastructures necessary for urban development, while decreasing the area’s ability to hold water during large precipitations of a hurricane.
Thus, under the growing threat of extreme weathers, resilience planning also needs to find the equilibrium between economic gains and the broader social costs.
Hurricanes on the Other Side of the Globe
While Hurricane Harvey and Florence landed on Texas and the Carolinas in 2017 and 2018, cities in southeast Asia also faced similar destructive typhoons (although called differently, typhoon and hurricane represent the same weather phenomenon with the only difference in their locations).
Macao, specifically, after undergoing Typhoon Hato last year, experienced less destruction under Typhoon Mangkhut of 2018. Some changes the government implemented include:
- Setting up special departments of civil defense and emergency coordination, including civil defense comprehensive drills, social emergency response, safe haven resettlement center, etc.
- Improving the infrastructure for drainage, flood control, and moisture prevention; improve the emergency response capacity of existing facilities in areas of water supply, power supply, and communication.
- Prioritizing infrastructure in future city planning, including the planning of the underground pipe network and the windproof design of buildings.
- Using the big data to establish a crisis information management system to promote the sharing of disaster information and establish a unified information publishing platform among areas under typhoon threats.
According to NOAA, the official hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin is from 1 June to 30 November. Climate change and coastal development also contribute to the rising risks of this extreme weather.
Although city governments take actions and implement changes to reduce risks, individuals need to be prepared as well. If you live in or close to areas under threats of hurricanes, please check your local emergency management agency's web page for tips.
By Yueling Dang