Laura is Katrina on fossil fuel steroids

A hurricane stronger than Katrina, aimed directly at the U.S. petrochemical hub during a climate crisis and pandemic, as Donald Trump vies for re-election. What could go wrong?

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A screenshot of CNN’s radar on Hurricane Laura shows the storm making landfall in Louisiana and Texas on Thursday morning with wind gusts of 185 miles per hour.

I don’t have a coherent message this morning as Hurricane Laura pulverizes the Gulf Coast. I only have facts, and none are of comfort.

This is a storm that will change Louisiana and Texas forever. This is a storm made worse by fossil fuels.

Hurricane Laura is Katrina on fossil fuel steroids. Its winds are stronger and its storm surge is bigger. The planet is also 15 years warmer; the ocean temperatures, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico are getting hotter, earlier. “We’re just in an era of high-octane hurricane fuel,” as one climate scientist put it. That fuel is made of lots of things—but it’s mostly made of fossils.

Like Katrina, too, Laura is also targeting areas populated by vulnerable communities. It’s heading for a city “largely home to Black and Latinx families, nearly 23 percent of whom are immigrants.” It’s happening during a pandemic, where families are already struggling financially, emotionally, and with their health. Many cannot afford to leave.

Laura is also taking direct aim at America’s petrochemical hub, an area with more than 60 high-risk petrochemical plants and oil refineries, and 49 hazardous waste sites. This is the ultimate feedback loop. Our environmental crises now fuel themselves.

And all this is happening as a climate-denying president vies for re-election, under a Republican-led vision for the future that does not include a single word about addressing the crisis at hand.

Laura made landfall last night as a Category 5 with wind speeds of 150 miles per hour, making it the strongest storm to hit the region since Katrina.

The National Hurricane Center—which had forecasted an “unsurvivable” storm surge of 15 to 20 feet, with waters reaching up to 40 miles inland—had already observed a storm surge of nine feet in some areas this morning.

Everyone should know what a storm surge of nine feet looks like. If you watch anything today, watch the two-minute demonstration in the tweet below.

These floodwaters will likely not recede for several days—and this stands to be the most devastating detail.

Last night, local officials in Louisiana told people who didn’t evacuate to keep a piece of paper with their name, social security number, and next of kin in a plastic bag in their pocket.

They said rescue efforts would not begin until the storm surge had passed.

Nearly 400,000 households in Texas and Louisiana are without power this morning. Those who didn’t evacuate may have spent last night in darkness, listening to 120 mile-per-hour winds whip around them.

Hopefully they had a second or third floor to go to. Otherwise, they may have also spent the night cold and soaking wet. And even that could be considered a blessing.

Indeed, when you get to a point where a hurricane’s storm surge reaches nine feet, 12 feet, 15 feet—power and heat can’t really save anyone.

At that point, the source of that power and heat moreso represent the problem.

Most of Texas and Louisiana’s power comes from coal and natural gas, two of the primary drivers of human-caused sea level rise. The sea has risen almost a foot since 1880, when humans started ramping up fossil fuel production.

As fossil fuel production has accelerated, so has the rate of sea level rise. Of the eight to nine inches the ocean has risen over the last 140 years, nearly a third has accumulated in the last 25 years.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure how a higher ocean might lead to greater storm surge when a hurricane occurs. Nor does it take much education to read any of the multiple peer-reviewed studies that show how a warmer ocean, fueled by climate change, makes rainfall events stronger when they happen.

But we have a president who appears incapable of reading or internalizing anything that might indicate a long-term problem happening under his watch. As Dana Milbank wrote for The Washington Post last night: “He pretends the virus will go away. He pretends the economy will come back like a “rocket.” He pretends climate change is a hoax.”

“Pretend,” of course, is just a nice word for denial. And as Milbank writes, “Denial is no substitute for a plan.” He’s right. What’s ours?


Want to contribute to a relief fund for Hurricane Laura? The Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana is raising money for local non-profits that will help people recover. You can donate at FoundationSWLA.org, with a direct link at foundationswla.org/hurricane-relief.

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