Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Gaza City is not the only place that has been reduced to rubble in the past week. Dan Stillman at WaPo points out that Hurricane Otis hit Acapulco on October 25 with 205 mph winds, “among the strongest ever measured.”
Iván Cabrera at N+ reports that the megastorm destroyed 80% of the city’s infrastructure, leaving the inhabitants without light, electricity, communications or internet. Some 274,000 homes and 600 hotels were affected by the outages in this city of some 800,000 workers in the tourism industry, at an estimated cost of $18 billion. Over 32,000 homes suffered physical damage.
As of midweek this week, only 35% of the city had potable drinking water. Seven soup kitchens set up by the provincial Guerrero government delivered 4,000 servings of food every day. Although 10,200 electricity poles were downed and 38 high tension wires were damaged, some 75% of the city now again has electricity.
The unprecedented destruction came about because humans are burning fossil fuels and heating up the earth and especially the oceans. Otis accelerated as it neared the Pacific coast of Mexico, jumping in only 12 hours from a Category 1 to a Category 5 hurricane just before it slammed into “America’s Paradise.” Ordinarily such storms slow as they approach landfall, and their force is dissipated once they get beyond the warm waters that feed them. It was the first known Category 5 storm to strike the Pacific coast of Mexico. It won’t be the last.
Jeff Masters and Bob Henson at Yale Climate Connections observe, “In what the National Hurricane Center called a ‘nightmare scenario,’ Hurricane Otis made landfall near Acapulco, Mexico, at 1:25 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, October 25, as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane with 165 mph winds and a central pressure of 923 mb. Otis unexpectedly intensified from a tropical storm with 65 mph winds to a Category 5 storm with 165 mph winds — an astonishing 100 mph increase — in the 24 hours before landfall. Rapid intensification is extremely dangerous because it leaves people little time to prepare for strong storms. The phenomenon is expected to happen more often as the climate warms.”
Let that sink in. “Rapid intensification” of hurricanes and cyclones will become more and more frequent, making any early warning system for evacuations almost impossible.
One reason Otis intensified so rapidly was that it was passing over a sea surface that was 86-88°F (30-31° C.) The Pacific is usually much colder than that, but it is 1.8° F. warmer than the average of the past twenty years. It has been an unusually hot summer, and September had set a record for a spike in temperatures. Both underlying climate change, caused by our burning fossil fuels (the equivalent of setting off 400,000 nuclear bombs the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima every single day) , and El Niño contributed to this hot mess off the coast.
In addition, the authors explain, Otis was helped along by a “jet streak,” a band of powerful winds connected to the jet stream, which gave oxygen to the hurricane, just as you can fan the flames of a fire.
Acapulco, they say, isn’t an obvious place for a hurricane to land. Usually they are blown north along the Mexican coast. Only two twentieth-century hurricanes that struck the city or near it are known, and both were much less powerful than Otis.
Mexico’s Pacific coast typically gets 4 hurricanes that make landfall every 3 years. But in October of 2023, already three hurricanes have made landfall along this coast.
What happened to the “Pearl of the Pacific” was not normal. But it wasn’t a freak occurrence, either. It was our new reality, of ever-changing, ever-challenging climate phenomena impelled by the terajoules of energy we are infusing into the atmosphere and the oceans. The Hiroshima nuclear device released 63 terajoules of energy. And we put 400,000 of them into the atmosphere every day, 365 days a year. Much of that energy is going into the oceans, and they are feeding it to hurricanes and cyclones. We are doing this to ourselves.