Hurricanes and tropical storms are some of nature’s most devastating forces, and research shows they’re getting stronger due to climate change. How can an organization prepare for more intense hurricanes and damaging tropical storms?
Hurricanes and their impact
Tropical storms begin as low-pressure waves over warm waters. As these waves move westward, warm, moist air rises and rotates in a counter-clockwise circle due to the Coriolis force. The rising air column condenses into thunderstorms, clouds and heavy rainfall. This releases even more heat, causing the column to spin faster until the storm moves over a landmass, thereby sapping its heat source.
Once wind speeds within a storm reach 74 mph, the tropical storm is classified as a hurricane and its intensity usually continues to grow so long as it remains over warm water. Hurricanes are classified by a five-level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, according to their potential for property damage. Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes.
Hurricanes that form in the Atlantic may threaten the Caribbean region, Gulf Coast or Atlantic Seaboard. Pacific hurricanes sometimes endanger Hawaii and other islands, and they occasionally jump across Central America. Once hurricanes make landfall, they can cause serious damage and loss of life, not only in coastal areas but also far inland due to high winds, intense rainfall, tornados and flooding.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were 103 hurricanes or major tropical storms that made U.S. landfalls from 2005 to 2019, resulting in 1,941 deaths. Weather.com reports that 2020 has been a hyperactive season, with 23 named tropical storms and eight hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that tropical cyclones have cost $927 billion in damages to the U.S. since 1980. Gulf Coast Hurricane Katrina in 2005 alone was responsible for $161 billion of that total.
Even “minor” hurricanes can cause serious destruction. Hurricane Florence, a Category 1 storm in 2018, dropped up to three feet of rainfall over parts of eastern North Carolina, causing floods that killed 53 people and damages of almost $25 billion.
Climate change is causing larger, more destructive hurricanes
New research by NOAA reports that climate change will produce even larger and more damaging hurricanes in the near future. This is due to rising sea levels and more intense rainfall. Their conclusion is that windspeeds will intensify by 1-10%, and there will be a greater number of very severe Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. Warmer sea temperatures may produce 10-15% greater rainfall causing increased flooding.
Similar research by the National Academy of Science supports these findings and points out that future storms will likely migrate northward, targeting northeastern states and cities at higher latitudes.
As indicated, increased hurricane intensity has major impacts. In fact, German reinsurer Munich Re states that the combined $135 billion insurance losses in 2017 from three hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, was a new normal, not an outlier.
Hurricane predictions are getting better
Climate scientists and weather forecasters are using new tools to better understand tropical storms and improve forecasts. Some of these include GOES-East and GOES-West satellites, improved algorithms, and AI applications. These systems, along with machine learning and other big data applications, address a need for more timely, complete and accurate data.
Practical new tools, such as the Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) prediction model, provide detailed assessments and maps showing areas most likely to be flooded during hurricanes. However, many scientists believe that practical limits to short-term weather forecasts (currently limited to about two weeks) will be difficult to overcome soon.
How can an organization become better prepared for more damaging hurricanes?
Government organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Institutes of Health and many private BCDR consultants often refer to four phases of emergency management to handle a disaster:
- Mitigation includes measures taken in advance of a disaster to prevent losses or reduce its impacts. This includes facility location, design, engineering, construction, hardening and other protection methods.
- Preparednessinvolves developing comprehensive risk assessments, response plans and threat management procedures.
- Response defines actions taken when a disaster occurs. It includes notifying and dispatching key personnel and contractors, activating alternative assets and facilities, and collecting impact analyses and status reports. Managing personal safety and security also are critical elements of the response phase.
- Recovery includes all actions taken after disaster conditions have ended, including restoring normal operations, cleaning up and ameliorating damages, filing necessary insurance claims and reports, and conducting lessons-learned reviews to identify improvements.
Satellites can help as hurricanes intensify
While land-based telecom systems are designed to be rugged and reliable, there are practical limitations on how resilient they can be. A severe storm with widespread flooding, wind and tornado damage can wreak havoc on physical facilities including buildings, cables, towers and support structures. Even locations that are not actually damaged may lack necessary infrastructure services such as power, connectivity and security.
Additionally, restoration times may be extended due to highway and transportation disruptions, quarantines and civil disturbances. There may also be supply chain issues that limit the availability of replacement units and parts. Furthermore, surviving land-based networks may become overtaxed and suffer performance degradations.
Fortunately, satellites can help as hurricanes intensify by playing a key role in disaster management programs.
Satellites for business continuity and disaster recovery
- Satellite communications networks offer exceptional solutions for both business continuity and disaster recovery. One of the key concepts of designing resilient communications networks is diverse routing, linking alternate traffic paths in the event one or more links go down. Satellite service is immune to storms and other natural disasters, and many government, healthcare, retail and financial organizations rely on satellites to ensure they can access key applications and databases during emergencies.
- Satellite ground stations can operate as fixed, nomadic and mobile units that can be quickly set up, relocated or moved as required. These can be stored in diversified locations and quickly activated to meet unexpected needs or support hard-hit sites.
Satellite connectivity for day-to-day operations
- Satellites don’t need to be reserved for emergency solutions. Many organizations use satellite communications as primary components in their networks. Natural resources and energy companies, utilities, pipelines, transportation, and land management, as well as public safety and health organizations, employ satellite links in daily service as part of their network. These systems provide cost-effective solutions for critical resource management, production monitoring, safety, security and other needs, especially in remote locations.
- One increasingly important application for satellites is providing connectivity with electronic sensors, monitors, controllers and digital devices, also known as the internet of things.
X2nSat has been an innovator in satellite communications for more than two decades. Contact us for more information about how satellites can help you better meet your daily communications requirements as well as prepare you to meet the increasing threats from hurricanes and other disasters.