Hurricane Season:

With climate change, ‘once-in-a-lifetime storm’ is the new normal

As strong hurricanes become more frequent, destruction becomes the norm. South Carolina National Guard Soldiers prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Credit: Department of Defense.)

Marissa Miley

The Carolinas are bracing for an onslaught of heavy and prolonged rainfall and life-threatening storm surges as Hurricane Florence closes in on the Southeast coast.

A mother holds her baby in the Philippines, where climate change is driving waves of human trafficking. Click on the photo to see the story. (Photo by Hannah Reyes Morales/GroundTruth)

A mother holds her baby in the Philippines, where climate change is driving waves of human trafficking. (Photo by Hannah Reyes Morales/GroundTruth)

“Disaster is at the doorstep and is coming in,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

Originally a Category 4 hurricane, but downgraded to Category 2 as it approached the coast, Florence was expected to have winds of up to 130 mph. Now it has slowed to 110 mph but still has the potential to dump more than 3 feet of water over several days and causing 13-feet storm surges in what is projected to be the strongest storm to hit in the region in decades.

The National Weather Service called Florence “the storm of a lifetime.”

IJburg is a neighborhood of floating houses on the eastern edge of Amsterdam. A floating garden shed and plants are pictured. (Photo by Joris van Gennip/The GroundTruth Project)

IJburg is a neighborhood of floating houses on the eastern edge of Amsterdam. (Photo by Joris van Gennip/GroundTruth)

AccuWeather is forecasting an “unprecedented” storm track and media outlets are closely following the “massive,” “catastrophic,” “monster” event – a “once-in-a-generation” storm.

These are bold declarations that are, unfortunately, losing their significance. Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was “record-shattering.” In the span of weeks, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria pummeled the Atlantic one after the other, causing widespread death and destruction from Houston to San Juan. They, too, were “once-in-a-lifetime” events.

The truth is, as temperatures continue to rise with climate change, hurricanes and other storms are likely to become more extreme and frequent. These are not once-in-a-lifetime storms; they are the storms of our lifetime.

A new home in Orleans, Massachusetts, is built to withstand hurricanes, with strong, reinforced connections that hold the foundation to the walls. Credit Pien Huang/WCAI

A new home in Orleans, Massachusetts, is built to withstand hurricanes, with strong, reinforced connections that hold the foundation to the walls, and the walls to the roof.
Credit Pien Huang/WCAI

The GroundTruth Project has explored the impact of such storms from the Philippines to Puerto Rico, and how efforts are underway from the Netherlands to New Orleans to adapt and build resilience to rising waters, high storm surges, massive flooding and heavy precipitation.

In one of our most innovative recent projects, “Last Generation,” we partnered with FRONTLINE to report from the Marshall Islands and capture what it’s like to grow up on a low-lying island nation that could, with rising sea levels and increasing severe storms, disappear in the near future.

Over the last several months, we’ve turned closer to our home in Massachusetts and looked at the vulnerability to climate change in Boston and Cape Cod. With our partners at WCAI, the local National Public Radio station, our fellows Samantha Fields and Pien Huang are reporting on the effects of storms on the infrastructure, the landscape and the people. A recent collaboration between WCAI and the Cape Cod Times, “Are we ready?” explored hurricane preparedness on the Cape.  

Izerman, a 9-year-old boy dreams of becoming an entomologist and study the wildlife of the Marshall Islands, but climate change will make his home inhabitable in his lifetime.

Izerman, a 9-year-old boy dreams of becoming an entomologist and study the wildlife of the Marshall Islands, but climate change will make his home inhabitable in his lifetime. (Credit FRONTLINE/GroundTruth)

All of this work is part of our award-winning and ongoing reporting project, “Living Proof: The Human Toll of Climate Change.”

Explore and revisit more of our climate change coverage, including:

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