Leland, NC– As coastal North Carolina breathes a sigh of relief with Hurricane Lee now forecast to turn away, some residents say they are noticing an increase in the frequency of close calls with intense, dramatic hurricanes.
Although better and more constant access to hurricane information through the advent of the digital age could explain the heightened awareness of danger, some experts say climate change plays a significant role. As global temperatures rise, the oceans warm, providing the necessary heat energy for hurricanes to form and intensify. This warming effect increases the likelihood of hurricanes occurring, not only in Leland but in coastal regions worldwide. But is this the case?
In an updated public data dump today from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding extreme weather disasters in 2023, reports stating that 23 disasters were recorded between January and August 23 were released on the organization's website. If true, this breaks the previous record of 22 separate events during 2020 that resulted in 253 deaths and a total cost of $57.6 billion. Current information does not include data collected from Hurricane Idalia, and is expected to increase as the year progresses.
Leland's geographic location makes it particularly susceptible to hurricane activity. Located along the southeastern coast of North Carolina, Leland lies in the path of tropical storms that form in the Atlantic Ocean and travel towards the United States. This coastal proximity exposes the area to a greater risk of hurricane landfall and also poses a significant tornado threat both during normal storm seasons as well as hurricane season. Once typically a concern in the midwestern plains, tornadoes pose a threat climate change proponents say is now very real in the region.
Additionally, factors like urbanization and deforestation can contribute to the increase in hurricane occurrence. These human activities alter landscapes, disrupt natural drainage systems, and remove natural barriers that protect against flooding and storm damage, making Leland more vulnerable to hurricane impacts.
The North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan, released in 2020, expressed concern over average temperatures- both day and night- as well as local rainfall both increasing. The report also stated there was an expectation of increased high tide incidents along the coastline, demonstrable by more frequent coastal flood advisories being released this year than in previous years.
To mitigate the effects of increasing hurricane activity, Climate specialists like The Union of Concerned Scientists and the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies say Leland could prioritize measures such as resilient infrastructure, coastal management strategies, and early warning systems. Communities must also adopt sustainable practices to address climate change and reduce the severity of future hurricanes.
For now, locals can start by keeping an eye on the tropics, where Hurricane Margot is swirling behind Lee, and two new disturbances are being monitored. Experts at the NOAA anticipated in August that the 2023 season would include 14-21 projected total storms, including three to five hurricanes category 3 or above.