America: Hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires

Natural phenomena in 2017 threatens the continent to levels never seen before

America: Hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires

Leer en Español: Huracanes, terremotos e incendios: América bajo amenaza

The American continent has suffered one of its worst seasons of natural phenomena. In Argentina, rains have flooded about 10 million hectares dedicated to agriculture and livestock; in the Caribbean, storms and hurricanes threaten islands and continental countries near the Atlantic Ocean; in the Pacific, two storms intimidate Mexico. The United States, meanwhile, on the east coast closely follows the movements of the storms and their possible trajectories; on the west coast, a careful eye is watching the fires that overtook California and Oregon. The year of 2017 has consolidated itself in history as as a record year of phenomena and natural disasters for the American continent.

The anguishing Argentine situation reaches unprecedented levels. The heavy rains of the season, which fall in areas that were already flooded, have made approximately 10 million hectares go underwater, according to official sources. The situation is sensitive not only for the environmental factors, but for economic reasons as well: most of the flooded areas belong to the so-called 'Pampa humid', the agricultural area that is the pillar of the Argentine productive model, where the losses are already estimated to be around 1,500 million dollars.

The president of the Argentine Rural Society (SRA), Miguel Etchevehere stated that "due to the rains, all the localities of the interior are in a state of emergency; the affectation to the roads in isolated places makes it difficult to consolidate the information". Etchevehere assures that the national productive cycle is going to be affected which may lead to an economic crisis.

The situation does not improve when heading north of the continent. In the Atlantic Ocean, there are three active storms: Jose, Maria and Lee. The first one, with tropical storm status, threatened part of the Caribbean islands, but when it turned on its axis while still at sea, it weakened and took a new route towards the northeast. Maria is currently the biggest threat since it follows a path very similar to Irma and has managed to consolidate itself as a category 4. For the inhabitants of the Caribbean islands, it represents a greater threat than Irma, since the latter destroyed the physical assets of the island and there is no place to properly take shelter. Lee is still far from the islands of the Caribbean; it moves slowly and with tropical depression level. It does not represent a threat at the moment, but the National Hurricane Center announced that it is too soon to remove it from the list of threats since it could increase in category over the next few days.

The US territory is not only being threatened on the east coast, California fires remain a latent hazard to the population on the west coast. "While most fires have been controlled, it cannot be said that they have been extinguished, high temperatures and dryness are fuel for fires", stated California Department of Wildlife and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) in an official statement. There are already more than 4,000 evacuees and about 5,400 homes threatened which led to the declaration of State of Emergency by Governor Jerry Brown.

The Mexican Pacific has latent threats from Norma and Otis. The first one hit Baja California Sur and has produced rains on 9 states. Even though they are not extreme risk, floods from high rainfall have caused chaos in the country. Otis, although still far from the mainland, lurks to hit the coast of southern Mexico, a region struck by two earthquakes.

For state agencies of disaster and protection, the year 2017 will have sequelae throughout the American territory as the effects lead to problems of production, as well as reconstruction costs. For Noah Diffenbaugh, Stanford researcher, "natural phenomena are intensifying asserting the consequences of climate change," for this expert if 2017 had sequels, 2018 will have to be studied now and create better protection systems as well as better method to answer the disasters.


Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto