Unnatural Disasters

by Courtney Wight '26 on November 4, 2023


Recent natural disasters over the summer have shown the negative impacts of climate change. Proof of the menacing effects of climate change can be seen with the increase in deadly severe weather throughout the country, including the unexpected hurricane in California and the deadly wildfires in Maui, Hawaii.

Hurricane Hilary, which hit California in the middle of August, is a sign of climate change. According to NOAA, Hurricane Hilary was unusual since hurricanes form over warm oceans, which normally happens in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Pacific. This is because the Gulf Stream carries warm waters north from Florida along the East Coast, but the Pacific Ocean current flows from north to south along the American West Coast, carrying cold waters from Alaska down to Southern California along the West Coast. However, due to climate change, ocean temperatures are rising, which means there is a greater risk for severe hurricanes and tropical storms all over the U.S.

While Hurricane Hilary may not have been as strong as some seen in Florida or Texas, it was devastating since California is not accustomed to the amount of rain hurricanes bring. The Southeast region of the country is used to high humidity and larger amounts of rainfall, but the Southwest is not acclimated to this type of weather. Due to the hurricane, parts of California received about two inches of rain, nearly half of their average yearly rainfall, in only six hours. Combined with infrastructure that is not equipped for this type of weather, even a minor hurricane has the potential to cause extreme damage.

California’s deserts are most susceptible to flooding with minimal amounts of rain. For example, Death Valley had “Nearly a month’s worth of rain in one hour.” This excessive amount of rain led to numerous floods in the region and forced millions to either evacuate or ride out the storms.

Another unprecedented natural disaster, and yet another indicator of climate change, occurred in August when deadly wildfires ravaged Maui. These fires are still burning and the death toll continues to grow as roughly 1,000 individuals remain missing. 

Wildfires occur in areas with high winds and a lack of water. Previous to the fires, Maui was experiencing a drought. A CBS news article states that a phenomenon known as flash droughts was mainly responsible for the wildfires. Flash droughts occur when the air is so dry that it begins to remove moisture from the ground. They are becoming more common in the United States, which is alarming because they are extremely dangerous. Experts believe the origin of flash droughts is connected to climate change. Studies show that the rise of global temperatures coupled with less rainfall can lead to the occurrence of a flash drought.

Another big contributor to the wildfires was invasive species. The areas burned used to be filled with commercial crops, but since the companies went out of business, the land was left to its own devices. It became filled with invasive species, which were more prone to burns, increasing the chances of wildfires. 

Because of climate change, environments are drying out quickly. Since there are higher temperatures, the land becomes drier more easily. This along with drought led to dangerous flash droughts which caused the deadly wildfires in Maui. 

While these natural disasters were vastly different, they were worsened by climate change. These areas are not equipped to handle these types of natural disasters. Because of this, more people will be injured or die due to a lack of preparedness by officials. Since these areas do not have systems in place to temper these situations, officials are facing new challenges. If corporations and governments do not take steps to mitigate climate change, severe natural disasters will increase and civilians will continue to suffer.