Hurricanes are getting stronger, more dangerous and forming earlier. Here’s how we can prepare.

Earlier this week, Tropical Storm Arthur skirted North Carolina’s coast before veering into the Atlantic. While damage was minimal, this marked the sixth straight year that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of hurricane season on June 1.

Experts are predicting this year to be a very active hurricane season, and even more concerning, researchers from NOAA and the University of Wisconsin at Madison just released a study that found climate change is causing more intense and dangerous hurricanes. Their research indicates that the likelihood of a tropical cyclone becoming a Category 3 or stronger storm has increased 8% per decade as a result of climate change.

This news comes on the heels of several record-breaking hurricane seasons. It is a reminder of the urgent need to curb emissions to limit the worst impacts of climate change, while also working to build resilience to the changes we know are coming.

As government leaders actively work to keep people safe from coronavirus, they must also prepare for other events, such as hurricanes, that could create compounding disasters.

Here are three actions leaders can take to protect people and property for this and future hurricane seasons.

1. Create a plan for this hurricane season that accounts for coronavirus

This year government leaders and emergency preparedness officials have to prepare for the potential double whammy of a hurricane making landfall in the midst of a global pandemic. Leaders at all levels of government must develop and update plans now that outline how best to protect people from both threats.

They should clearly outline the process for making decisions about evacuations, for example, including weighing the risks and benefits of having people shelter-in-place or evacuate. Additionally, means of transportation and emergency shelters should allow for safe social distancing and follow other protocols that reduce the spread of coronavirus.  As government leaders actively fight to keep people safe from coronavirus, they must also prepare for other events, such as hurricanes, that could create compounding disasters. Click To Tweet

Government leaders and emergency preparedness officials must also provide clear public communications about risks and measures people can take to keep themselves and their families safe from a storm and illness. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has updated guidelines for steps people can take now to prepare, including stocking up on food and water in addition to personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer.

Also, in response to added complexities from the coronavirus, the National Hurricane Center updated storm surge maps and forecast timing to help emergency managers make more informed decisions sooner.

Without an increase in transparent planning now, leaders will be scrambling to address risks during the most chaotic time as a large storm approaches the U.S. coastline.

2. Develop a long-term resilience plan for future hurricane seasons and climate change   

Residents and businesses of coastal states are at risk from both more intense hurricanes and sea level rise. To confront these challenges, some states have developed comprehensive coastal resilience plans that are based in science and help policymakers prioritize solutions that build resilience in anticipation of disasters. Virginia and North Carolina will release their resilience plans this summer, with New Jersey following in the fall.

These plans help decision-makers and residents understand their current and future risks, so they can make informed decisions that help reduce these risks. They also help states direct resources and investments to solutions that can have the greatest benefits in the face of extreme weather and climate change.

Solutions range from natural infrastructure to reduce flooding to floodproofing and elevating homes, and even relocation for the most at-risk communities.

These plans should incorporate meaningful public engagement to help local residents understand their risks and contribute to solutions. Doing so will save lives and save money, as every $1 spent on disaster mitigation saves $6 in disaster recovery.

In addition to protecting property and lives, investments in natural infrastructure can stimulate our economy and create jobs. One study found that every $1 million invested in natural infrastructure created up to 30 jobs, while also increasing property values, improving water quality, enhancing wildlife habitat, and providing eco-tourism and recreational opportunities.

3. Build natural infrastructure to buffer from storm surge and sea level rise

To build resilience, many states are turning to natural infrastructure to provide a critical buffer from storms and sea level rise. These natural coastal defenses include everything from restored barrier islands, marshes and swamps to oyster reefs that act as living shorelines and reduce wave action.

A recent study found that a square kilometer of wetlands is worth approximately $1.8 million a year on average in storm protection. The study also found that Florida could have reduced damages by $430 million if it had maintained wetlands where Hurricane Irma made landfall.

Science is sending regular warning signals about the need to build resilience ahead of future disasters that are becoming more severe as a result of climate change. As we have seen with coronavirus, we must listen to scientists and develop plans to save lives.

Leaders at all levels must have a plan for keeping people safe this hurricane season during the pandemic. Going forward, they must also work to advance policies, plans and projects that build resilience over time and keep people safe from the new normal of our changing climate.

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