I’ve been seeing lots of news stories about how much more destructive hurricanes are today than the ones back say 50 years ago. I think I’ve heard the phrase “the most destructive hurricane since…” at least a hundred times a day, maybe more.

While there’s a clear obvious reason that statement is (in a sense) true the actual reason seems to be overlooked.

That is part of what leads to, I believe, a lot of young people thinking hurricanes are somehow larger and more powerful than they used to be, which of course also lends credence to much of increasingly discredited global warming/climate-change fanaticism.

Look at the images on this site:

This is Topsail Island, a local beach community near here a few miles north of where I live. It is essentially 25 mile long sand bar that’s one of the innumerable barrier islands all along the east coat of Virginia and North Carolina. (Prior to WWII there wasn’t even a bridge to the island and the only access was by boat.)

You can see in the pictures some scattered buildings, a fishing pier and a few other tourist attractions built by locals. It has a very nice beach, good fishing, some good food and back then then population peaked in the summer and dwindled to almost nothing in the winter because back then no one with any real sense thought that living full time on a sandbar was a particularly bright idea.

Jump forward to 2017…

Topsail is now a bedroom community and a year round retirement home for many people increasingly attracting the upscale community. Oprah Winfrey has a very large and nice house on Topsail Island. It is a busy place with three separate communities; North Topsail, Surf City and Topsail Beach.

Think about that… essentially three towns jammed onto a single 25 mile long sandbar each with it’s own Police Department and City Hall (and incidentally different speed limits in each community which, with 3 separate Police Departments and a LOT of tourists in the summer, contributes to city revenues). And no I haven’t been a victim of that but having been in Law Enforcement I’ve seen that phenomenon in many small towns.

When you drive around Topsail today there is very little land upon which has not been built a house, a hotel, a business or is a cleared lot for sale. The houses reach to the very tip on either end of the island and line both the sea side and the inland waterway side. The communities built artificial sand dunes on the sea side anchored with sea grass and other local plants to try to “protect” the residences but they pretty much wash away every time there is a major storm and have to be rebuilt. Perhaps it gives the residence a (false) sense of security to have a tall sand dune between their house and the Atlantic Ocean.

Bottom line is this…

If a hurricane had scoured Topsail clean of buildings back in the middle of last century it wouldn’t been a major disaster simply because there wasn’t much of anything there. Prior to WWII there was virtually nothing. The locals who had piers and a few scattered cabins out there would have been put out but no one would have likely heard of it outside of the local area.

The same major hurricane today would destroy thousands of home, businesses, hotels, streets, water and sewer lines and septic tanks. A major evacuation would have been ordered and news media from around the country would have been here, as they were when Matthew bore down on the island back in 2007.

Construction has continued unabated since 2007 and there are a lot more building 10 years after Matthew. So the next comparable hurricane will, naturally, be more “destructive” then Matthew was.

Are the hurricanes any stronger, the winds blowing any harder than a century ago?

No not particularly.

It’s kind of like the difference between throwing a large rock in the dessert with no one in your line of sight and throwing that same rock on a crowded room.

Is the rock more “destructive” in the crowded room? In the sense that it hit more people and did more damage certainly.

Is it any different from the rock that you threw in the dessert which did no damage? Nope.

So when you hear people going on about how much more “destructive” hurricanes are today than they were 50 years ago or a hundred years ago consider what that actually means… especially when such statements are coming from “journalists” who often have no education in any subject other than “journalism”. Take what they say with an entire 50 lb bag of salt.

The rock (hurricane) isn’t really any larger or stronger. Individual storms vary in size and intensity. Always have, always will.

But every one of those storms that touches land does so in a much more “target rich” environment.

The Librarian

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    1. Agreed!

      The other problem here is that as more homes, roads, and infrastructure are built, there are fewer and fewer trees and less exposed soil. Fewer trees means less natural wind breaks, less plants to absorb excess water, and with less exposed soil (now covered by buildings and roads) to soak up rain fall.

      The result?
      Winds that are more pronounced at ground level, and a massive buildup of rainfall with nowhere to go other than down our streets and into our homes.

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