Hurricanes are scaled numerically from Category 1 with sustained winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour and Category 5 with sustained winds of 157 miles per hour or greater. After forming closer to Africa, the storms track west toward the Caribbean and often into the Gulf of Mexico where landfalls are usually on the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida coasts.
Most reporting on hurricanes relates to loss of human life, property devastation and costs associated with rebuilding. Katrina, which made landfall in Mississippi on August 29, 2005, was called the worst natural disaster in American history by former Gov. Haley Barbour in his book, “America’s Great Storm.” More than 200 people perished and all but the northern tier of counties received federal disaster declarations. Damage totals were pegged at $30 billion.
Less reported is the severe damage inflicted on coastal sea life. The larger waves, faster currents and invading foreign species like bacteria can devastate natural habitats and the animals that live in them. While free-swimming animals such as sharks, whales and dolphins can move away from the tumultuous conditions, slow-moving fish, turtles and shellfish cannot. Oysters have severely suffered, and hurricanes play a major part in that.
“Oysters can survive full-strength seawater,” said Dr. Read Hendon of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) said. “But it’s the disease and parasites associated with our salinities that then wipe out oyster populations. That’s a double-edged sword. We’ve had hurricanes since the beginning of time, but with increasing temperatures, we have seen, and this is well-documented throughout NOAA and the weather service, we’re seeing more frequent storms.”
Angelos Apeitos, also with GCRL, said that the warm water and invading parasites and bacteria are the most detrimental results of hurricanes in regards to oysters.
“If you think of the origin of the hurricane,” Apeitos said. “By the time we get it, and it’s migrated through literally hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles of open water. Think of a parasite that’s not present here that impacts, the well-being; brings it here, puts it here… and then when the water recedes, it takes everything that was on land back into the water.”
The National Climate Assessment also published a statement about the multiple causes that are likely contributors to the rise in sea surface temperature in the Atlantic.
“Numerous factors have been shown to influence these local sea surface temperatures, including natural variability, human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases, and particulate pollution,” the assessment reported. Too, there are some reports showing no connection between climate change and increasing storms.