A look at three terrifying disasters of 2023 shows us that confronting our climate demons requires unwavering courage and action.
With two months of the year left, the United States has set a record for the most natural disasters and extreme weather events (23) in a single year that have caused damages costing $1 billion or more.1 From tornadoes to tropical storms, the climate is changing and our built environment and emergency response protocols have yet to catch up to speed.
Much like the eerie tales that haunt our imaginations during the spooky season, the real-life narratives of climate disasters in 2023 have been nothing short of terrifying—hurricanes ripping through coastal towns like malevolent phantoms, wildfires turning landscapes into unrecognizable infernos, and fast-moving floods that swallow entire communities.
But as the days grow shorter and the nights get darker, we must confront a haunting truth—the climate crisis is the most bone-chilling story of our time, and it demands our bravery, resolve, and decisive action. In the face of these climate horrors, we must summon the courage to face them head-on, just as we might gather our wits to navigate the haunted houses and ghostly apparitions of Halloween night.
Severe winter storms at the end of 2022 and the early months of 2023 left Central California dealing with lasting repercussions. Several atmospheric rivers in continuous succession caused heavy rainfall, which reduced the impacts of the state’s perennial drought but left it drowning under a flood of water and record-breaking snowfall.2 Homes, businesses, levees, and agricultural infrastructure in the valley were affected, with some economists estimating that the cost of the series of storms would exceed $30 billion in damages and economic losses.3
The onslaught of water caused lasting effects in the agricultural production of the Central Valley, which supplies about 25% of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and other food products.4 Battling 400-600% of the state’s typical annual rainfall in a span of just two months, as well as storm surges, landslides, and spring flooding caused by the inundation,5 the storms activated federal and state disaster assistance programs and local rescue operations in addition to highlighting the need for infrastructural and legislative improvements for potential future disasters.6
In August, devastating wildfires incinerated the historic town of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Sparked by faulty power lines and fueled by gusts from Hurricane Dora, it quickly became the deadliest wildfire in over a century.7 Causing 97 deaths and an estimated $4.5 billion dollars worth of damages,8 the fast-moving flames created an apocalyptic scene. With warm temperatures suiting quick-growing grasses to sprout up around the island, and later causing hotter and drier conditions, the island was a tinderbox of exponentially-increased fire risk.
The aftermath of the blaze has been painstakingly slow for an island that relies on tourism.9 Recovery teams have thoroughly traversed the rubble, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent weeks removing hazardous materials from burn zones. Organizations and communities worldwide have come together to raise funds and awareness for Maui, which has reopened to visitors, but the future of Lahaina remains to be seen.
Hurricane Idalia rounded out the record-breaking year of disasters, with damages from its August landfall in Florida yet to be fully estimated. The strongest storm to hit the region in over a century, it caused heavy damage to homes, businesses, vehicles, and coastal communities, with lasting impacts caused by a widespread storm surge. Several perished in the storm, which produced winds of up to 125 miles per hour.
Thanks to scientific and technological advancement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) was able to mobilize their disaster response teams prior to the storm’s landfall, launching response initiatives before the hurricane even struck.10 In the wake of the storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has offered federal disaster assistance in the forms of grants and mitigation advice for rebuilding and repairing initiatives.
The climate disasters of 2023 have been real-life horror stories, rivaling any of the ghostly tales told during the Halloween season. However, we shouldn’t let these stories haunt us. Instead, they represent an urgent call to action, a challenge that calls for our determination, innovation, and unity. According to scientists, the increase in natural disasters and subsequent damage is consistent with what climate scientists have long predicted, but adaptation and relief efforts, although critical to recovery, are only band-aids on a worsening wound.
Climate change is the ultimate scary story—it’s real, it’s inescapable, and it’s happening now. But, we can’t remain paralyzed by fear. We still have the power to rewrite the ending, starting at the source. Through groundbreaking scientific discovery, sustainable policy implementation efforts at the federal, state, and local levels, advanced technical developments in clean energy and emissions reduction, and impactful climate advocacy and awareness, mitigating climate change is more achievable than ever before. We’re collectively turning this horror story into a tale of hope and resilience as we craft a better future for our planet and its inhabitants.
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