More than 385,000 residents in Texas and 200,000 in Louisiana have been told to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Laura, which strengthened to a Category 4 storm with “unsurvivable storm surge” before landfall, according to the National Hurricane Center. To the west, 170,000 residents remain under evacuation orders as hundreds of wildfires devastate parts of Northern California, and tens of thousands of others have been warned they may have to leave soon.
Scientists say the simultaneous extreme weather events represent a glimpse of the impacts of unchecked climate change. Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are well above average — measuring nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas — helping to rapidly intensify Hurricane Laura before landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border, The Washington Post reported. In California, years of hotter temperatures, smaller snowpack, and less dependable rainfall patterns have dried out the soil and vegetation. In addition, pest and disease outbreaks have increased the volume of deadwood, according to Scientific American.
“This current stretch of natural catastrophe events in the United States are essentially a snapshot of what scientists and emergency managers have long feared,” meteorologist Steven Bowen, the head of Catastrophe Insight at AON, an international risk mitigation firm, told CBS News. “These equally profound events occurring in different parts of the country at the same time — what we call compounded or connected extremes — run the risk of putting significant strain on resources, budgets, and the supply chain… Add in the continued complications posed by COVID-19, and you’re faced with even greater challenges in trying to get communities back on their feet.”