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Mario Ariza | Atena SherryOctober 17, 2018
Caroline McClain, 16, sits on the ruins of her family's Mexico Beach vacation home after Hurricane Michael. Photo by Atena Sherry.Caroline McClain, 16, sits on the ruins of her family's Mexico Beach vacation home after Hurricane Michael. Photo by Atena Sherry.

When Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Oct. 10, it drove a wall of water 10 to 15 feet high across large swaths of the once sleepy seaside Gulf town of Mexico Beach, Fla. Propelled by the storm’s sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, the water reached almost half a mile inland at some points. Entire housing developments were reduced to their foundations.

At least two beachfront homes were ripped off their pilings and floated clear to the other side of the street, one with a family still inside. Despite official orders to evacuate, some 250 of the town’s 1,000 residents attempted to weather the hurricane. As of Wednesday morning, Oct. 17, seven days after the storm, authorities had confirmed two deaths in Mexico Beach, and one person remained unaccounted for. Many residents say they were surprised by how quickly the storm developed.

Previous storms “always slow down and build, but this one was different,” said Caroline McClain, of Adel, Ga. She has been coming down to Mexico Beach her whole life and is the matriarch of a clan that owns several vacation properties in town. On the fourth day after the storm, she was picking through the rubble of one property, wondering why this storm had grown in power so suddenly. “I think it’s because it’s been so hot, really, really hot,” she said.

At least two beachfront homes were ripped off their pilings and floated clear to the other side of the street, one with a family still inside.

Human-driven climate change is intensifying tropical cyclones across the globe, climatologists say, but the role it played in the tragedy at Mexico Beach is both subtle and surprising. “There are two aspects to the changing climate as it relates to the hurricanes and the ocean,” explained meteorologist Bryan Norcross of Miami’s television station WPLG. Both contribute to higher sea levels, which mean more powerful and larger storm surges.

“The first is water temperature,” said Mr. Norcross.

According to Climate Central, a clearinghouse for information on climate science, both the maximum and the average sea surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico have risen. And because heat causes matter to expand, hotter water means higher oceans. The process is called thermal expansion, and it is actually fairly easy to measure.

The second aspect of the impact of climate change, according to Mr. Norcross, is “melting glaciers [that] affect the general rise of sea level everywhere.” That effect is much harder to measure since scientists are still figuring out how to accurately model the impact and rate of glacier and ice cap melt.

“I called her and told her to come away,” she said, her voice growing tremulous, “that this storm was a little bit different. She was 78.”

Mr. Norcross does not believe rising sea levels had much of a direct effect on the level of damage produced by Hurricane Michael. “It doesn’t make anything any better, and on the margins it doesn’t make anything significantly worse,” he said.

According to Mr. Norcross, what really amplified the storm surge that wrecked Mexico Beach was the shape of the sea floor along the gulf. “If you have a big gradual shelf, the energy [of the storm] gets deflected forwards, not upwards,” he said.

Luckily, most storms only have a narrow corridor of storm surge. Apalachicola, which is only some 40 miles away from Mexico Beach, did not experience anything nearly as destructive in terms of ocean surge.

Jane Knight, an elderly resident of Mexico Beach who has lived here for 30 years, rode out the storm at her son’s house farther inland in Georgia. Today she has a more pressing worry than gauging the impact of climate change on Hurricane Michael. Her neighbor Agnes is among the missing.

“She lived right there and she stayed,” she said. Ms. Knight points to the tattered foundations of a home across the street from where hers once stood. “I called her and told her to come away,” she said, her voice growing tremulous, “that this storm was a little bit different. She was 78.”

As she and her son and his wife pick through what is left of their home, a South Florida search-and-rescue team arrives with a cadaver dog. Ms. Knight points them in the direction of Agnes’s home, and the dog and its handler start off on their own search.

Brooke Butte, 54, had remained in Mexico Beach as Michael raged. “I didn’t have the money to evacuate,” he explained, “but next time I’m leaving. It was absolutely horrible. I’ll never do that again.

“The storm sounded like a freight train for four hours straight,” he said.

Mr. Butte lives in a trailer a few miles inland, off Route 386, but he works at the Gulf View Motel, which used to be a clean and well-run inn just across the street from the beach. Now the motel is a shattered ruin.

The water has so thoroughly scoured the site that it is hard to tell where the motel’s rooms once were. Charles Smith, the owner, rode out the storm in the structure’s second-floor stairwell with his two cats and two dogs. “The water came in about noon or so, and it lasted for about three hours,” he said.

“I could hear the waves [below me]. It was an eerie feeling.”

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Phillip Stone
5 years 7 months ago

I live on a continent perpetually ravaged by fire, drought and flooding rains. The inhabitants are subject to these conditions but did not make them happen. We adapt, adjust, recover, press on.

Can we please not have Catholics or Jesuits who are so conformed to the world that they are swayed by every wind on change?

The only way that humans could or can alter the climate of planet earth is by all out nuclear war between superpowers armed to the teeth with thermonuclear devices and all my adult lifetime has been witness to the waning of this threat by intelligent discourse and the unexpected collapse of the USSR while not seeing the threat eliminated, particularly from China and the Islamic world.

There has been no global warming in the last 20 years.
There has been no sea level elevation over the entire earth and more ice forms in Antarctica as ice wanes in the Arctic as it has done in cycles for millions of years.

The IPCC is a body set up to PROVE man made global warming, not to study earth climate scientifically. Bias written large.
The numerous computer models of the climate have ALL consistently got the answer wrong and that is no surprise as the climate of the earth is a system in dynamic equilibrium and all expert mathematical physicist know that such a system CANNOT be modelled properly.
31,000 real climate scientists have signed a document testifying that they disagree with the proposition that human life is endangering the earth and its population by the use of fossil fuel.

Remember, we are a species made for existence in warmer climates, what these days are called Mediterranean climates.
Warm is better, cold is deadly to humans and plants, food crops.

Proper climate scientists have shown that the present very tiny increase in atmospheric CO2 is from out of the oceans and is due to the warming of the earth coming out of the last ice age and that the level FOLLOWS the rise of temperature, it does not precede it.
As a result, there is world wide greening of the planet - trees are taking back the deserts and the crops are increasing in yields up to 30% because CO2 is an essential plant food.

JR Cosgrove
5 years 7 months ago

This magazine and the Jesuits who run it can be understood using one framework, a world government using socialism as its economic model. Climate change fits into this paradigm as long as the solution is the removal of capitalism and then regulations by an ever bigger government. Other political policies aimed at this objective are open borders, essentially dissolving the power of the United States and its traditional culture of independence and self reliance. All tradition must be destroyed. Truth is not relevant. Emotions will rule.

Stanley Kopacz
5 years 7 months ago

Everything you said is in conflict with scientific statistical measurements, established multi-disciplinary climate science. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. We've been burning mountains of sequestered carbon. You are talking out of your ass and living in an alternate fantasy world. You and Cosgrove are the "conservative" version of Lysenko. Keep your heads in the sand if you don't prefer that warm, dark,moist place. What is scary is that so many people want to be deluded into complacency. Wishful thinkers dancing around the deck of the Titanic in tutus.

JR Cosgrove
5 years 7 months ago

Thank you for your comments. Anytime someone uses ad hominems it is admission the other person is right. You use several. By the way what have I said that you disagree with?

Stanley Kopacz
5 years 7 months ago

There's a big problem for advanced civilization caused by a surfeit of greenhouse gas caused by human combustion. Meanwhile, you go off on Jesuits and world socialism. If you have a viable approach to avoiding climate change consistent with your neoliberal philosophy, fine. But, if you feel you and your neoliberal philosophy can only be defended by denying physics AND PROJECTING YOUR OWN AD HOMINEMS against hard working scientists, then I have nothing but ad hominems for you. It's not because I've lost the argument. It's been won by the scientific community. People who repeat rubbish and lies( like Trump) are only worthy of ad hominems. They are unmoved by scientific argument.

JR Cosgrove
5 years 7 months ago

I have never denied anything in science. Science is changing all the time and what is accepted in one time is often disproven at a later time. That's the history of science. I have studied it a fair amount.

I do know that the climate alarmists do not believe it is that bad or else they would have behaved differently. They immediately went for the money which was a sure sign they thought it wasn't that bad. You should be mad at them.

JR Cosgrove
5 years 7 months ago

By the way I am a classical liberal. That has built the modern world. Have no idea what a neoliberal is. A noted classical liberal though the website describes him as a libertarian just wrote something on the latest climate scare. https://www.hoover.org/research/our-latest-global-warming-scare

Stanley Kopacz
5 years 7 months ago

You are too postmodern for me. You need to ground yourself in the physics and eschew the extraneous political and economic stuff. Republicans support renewable energy equally if not more than liberals. Their motivations might be different but they make sense. Survivalism, individual independence, a robust decentralized grid in preparations for a more unstable climate. I can respect that. You city-fied Republicans could learn a lot from your rural counterparts.

JR Cosgrove
5 years 7 months ago

I am the complete opposite of post modern. I am certainly not against renewable energy and as you say very few Republicans would be. What they are against are irrelevant attempts to force certain solutions down one's throat without any indication that it will be feasible. These include specific energy sources and broad plans for economic realignment.

My guess is that some form of nuclear energy will arise that is effective and not dangerous.

Daku Mundi
5 years 7 months ago

Nature is wrathful and the way we treating it these days, these are just the outcomes of our own actions.

Helen Hardison
5 years 7 months ago

Hurricane always causes of a lot of destruction. Starting a new life after the hurricane is a bit difficult but can be made beautiful if the person makes themselves mentally prepared. My cousin has also survived the hurricane last month. In the beginning, it was quite difficult for her to start the new life but along with the time, she made herself used to each and every situation. Today, after getting her home renovated, she is happily living with her husband. Really thanks for the team of Office Furniture Solutions https://www.officesolutionsfl.com/about-office-furniture-solutions/ who helped her in the time of crises and gave new life to her home through their modern furniture.

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