Lane brought record rain to Hawaii, but lost its wallop
By MARK THIESSEN
Sunday, August 26
Hurricane Lane secured its place in the history books before it quickly dissipated into a tropical storm and moved off from Hawaii. The storm caused damage, mostly on the Big Island, where rivers raged near Hilo and nearly 40 people had to be rescued from homes.
There were no deaths from the storm, which had the potential to cause much more destruction.
Here’s a look at the storm and its impact on Hawaii.
The storm named Lane was barreling toward the Hawaiian Islands as a powerful Category 5 hurricane in the middle of the week. But then it slowed down, moving as slow as 2 mph at times.
As it lingered, the storm’s outer bands were already over the Big Island, allowing Lane to drop 51.53 inches (131 centimeters) of rain as of early Sunday morning, according to preliminary figures from the National Weather Service.
That puts it in third place for the most rain from a storm in the United States since 1950. Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Houston last year, dropped the most rain in that span with 60.58 inches (154 centimeters), Bingaman said. Hurricane Hiki dropped 52 inches (132 centimeters) in Hawaii in 1950, and Amelia produced a 48-inch (122 centimeter) rainfall in 1978.
Rain was still falling on the Big Island, and the total could still increase.
SO WHAT HAPPENED TO LANE?
Residents and businesses across the islands prepared for the worst, boarding up windows and stocking up on supplies. Tourists in hotels along Waikiki Beach in Honolulu didn’t heed warnings to get out of the water. But many visitors stocked up on snack food and beer at convenience stores just in case.
While the Big Island took the brunt of the storm, the worst of fears never materialized as Lane quickly fell apart.
Winds ultimately caused the demise of Lane, National Weather Service meteorologist Vanessa Almanza said.
The storm moved in the central Pacific along a high-pressure ridge last week, when there wasn’t much wind shear to affect the hurricane.
But then the storm began moving north toward Hawaii around the high-pressure ridge, and that’s when its winds died down and it lost speed.
The jet stream “just kind of pushed the top off of the hurricane and what happens is it loses exhaust so it just starts collapsing,” Almanza said.
It was downgraded to a tropical storm on Friday, and all warnings for Hawaii were cancelled Saturday morning after the storm turned west and moved away from the state.
Hawaii’s Big Island has had more than its fair share of natural disasters this year, with Kilauea volcano destroying more than 700 homes with lava.
If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the lava rock might have helped absorb some of the rainwater better than soil because it’s more porous, Bingaman said.
Matthew Purvis, president of the Mainstreet Pahoa Association, said land in the Puna district on the southern part of the island is so porous, there are few waterways that will get clogged or overflow.
SPEAKING OF KILAUEA
The volcano is still erupting. In fact, it’s been in a continuous state of eruption since 1983, and it opened up several vents beginning in May. It was those vents that sent lava down rural streets, destroying entire neighborhoods as it flowed to the ocean.
The volcano has settled down since, but it is still active.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory says Tropical Storm Lane had little effect on the volcano beyond some minor rock falls at the summit. The observatory also lost communication with some monitoring stations.
The observatory also says whiteout conditions could occur on the new lava field because of steam created when rain falls on the still-hot lava flows.
NEED A BREAK
It’s been a trying few months as Mother Nature — or Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, has set her sights on the Big Island, first with destruction from the volcano to storm damage.
“Definitely we need a break,” Hawaii County Managing Director Will Okabe said, quickly adding that it’s hurricane season and other storms could still develop.
“We are going to be prepared, and we always do that well on the Big Island,” he said.
HURRICANE AND WILDFIRES
It’s not known if the storm played any role in the start of several wildfires near the historical coastal town of Lahaina on Maui. But the high winds early Friday morning certainly helped spread the fire, according to Maui county officials.
The hurricane also played a role in helping firefighters contain the fires, with about 12 inches of rain falling on the island in a 24-hour period through Saturday.
The wildfires in a dry part of the county burned 2,000 acres (810 hectares); destroyed 21 structures and forced more than 600 people into shelters. One woman was injured and flown to Honolulu for treatment.
Brush fires also started on Oahu, which is also dry but got only a fraction of the rains that the Big Island and Maui received from the storm.
Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to this report.
Hurricane season not only brings destruction and death but rising inequality too
August 24, 2018
Professor of Sociology; Rice University Kinder Institute Scholar, University of Pittsburgh
Junia Howell does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Hurricane Lane, which drenched Hawaii with four feet of rain, is a reminder of the devastation hurricane season can bring.
Only one year ago Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, followed closely by Irma and Maria, which left a trail of destruction across Florida and Puerto Rico. Despite the private and government aid provided after these disasters, thousands continue to struggle even today.
However, not everyone is struggling. In fact, some actually benefit economically from these extreme weather events.
In a new study that I co-authored with James Elliott, a fellow sociologist at Rice University, we found that populations that are privileged in terms of education, race or home ownership gain wealth in the aftermath of natural disasters, exacerbating already wide economic inequities.
Not only that, how the government delivers aid is partly to blame.
Disasters on the rise
Natural disasters from hurricanes to wildfires are on the rise, both in terms of frequency and severity.
And they take a heavy toll. Last year alone, the United States suffered US$260 billion in direct damages from natural disasters. While that’s a devastating figure, it fails to encompass the full extent of the impact – such as a loss in income or uncovered expenses such as medical bills – that can last for months and even years after cleanup begins.
Previous research has shown the aftermath of disasters is more devastating for less privileged residents as they are more likely to lose their job, have to relocate and pay higher rents due to reduced housing availability.
In our recent paper in the journal Social Problems, we found that the effects are even more profound, with whites, the highly educated and homeowners actually improving their relative financial situation after a disaster, while blacks, those with less education and renters are worse off compared with their peers.
Whites make gains while others lose
We combined nationally representative data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics on nearly 3,500 families with government figures on natural hazard damages, Federal Emergency Management Aid and local population demographics in every U.S. county.
We then explored how extreme natural disasters influenced changes in family wealth from 1999 to 2013. Throughout our analysis, we controlled for race, education, age, home ownership, family status, residential mobility as well as neighborhood and county demographics with the aim of comparing households that were similar. We also only compared families who started out with similar wealth in 1999.
Overall, we found a surprisingly strong correlation between the scale of damage a county experienced and an increase in average wealth. That is, people who lived in counties that suffered extreme disasters tended to accumulate more wealth over the period than those who lived in mostly unaffected parts of the country. And the more damage a county experienced, the more pronounced the relative gains in wealth.
Greater wealth, however, was not experienced by everyone. Using a statistical technique called interactions, we were able to see how these changes affected different segments of the population depending on race, education and home ownership.
First, we considered the effects of race and found that whites who lived in counties that experienced extreme natural disasters accumulated $100,000 more wealth than their peers with similar characteristics who did not.
For people of color, on the other hand, this effect was reversed. Specifically, black residents living in disaster-prone counties lost $46,000 in wealth compared with their counterparts elsewhere. And Latino residents in affected counties lost $101,000 relative to similar peers.
In other words, while whites benefited financially by living in areas hit by hurricanes and other disasters, people of color were clobbered.
A resident stacks the water and food she received at an aid distribution center on her head in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Reuters/Jonathan Drake
We then examined the impact of education, holding other factors constant. We found that higher levels of education were also associated with a tendency to benefit from natural disasters, while those with less experienced devastating losses.
Finally we focused on home ownership. Similarly, our results showed that those who owned emerged a lot better off than those who rented.
Our findings suggest that natural disasters are worsening wealth inequality, especially along racial lines. For example, in Monmouth, New Jersey – a New York City suburb that experienced the most natural disaster damage in the U.S. from 1999 to 2013 – $111,000 of the increase in the white-black wealth gap during the period can be attributed to the impact of the disasters.
This map visualizes these rising inequalities across the largest metropolitan areas.
FEMA aid plays a role
This evidence is depressing in its own right. Yet, what is arguably even more disturbing is Federal Emergency Management Aid is further exacerbating these inequalities.
FEMA aid is distributed to mitigate the negative repercussions of hazards. In the best of worlds this federal assistance would reduce inequality – or at least curtail its expansion. What we found is quite the opposite.
Unlike what you might think, FEMA aid is not distributed solely based on damage or need. In fact, when we compared the amount of natural disaster damage in counties across the U.S. from 1999 to 2013 with how much aid FEMA allocated to them, the correlation is weak. This suggests factors other than need, such as politics, are primarily driving FEMA aid decisions.
However, statistically, this means we can isolate the effect of FEMA aid from natural hazards. When we did this, we found that FEMA aid also exacerbated inequalities. In New York County, for example, which received nearly $8 billion in FEMA aid from 1999 to 2013, we found that $105,000 of the increase in the white-black wealth gap is attributable to FEMA aid.
In short, much like natural disasters themselves, FEMA aid is exasperating wealth inequality.
The obvious question after all this of course is why?
In this particular study, our aim was to identify the patterns of inequality and thus we are unable to specify the reasons why natural disasters and FEMA aid are exacerbating inequality.
That said, we do know from previous research that privatized aid as well as community reinvestment efforts are disproportionately concentrated in privileged communities, especially those that are white and middle-class.
Given the increasing frequency of natural disasters and their role in exacerbating wealth inequality, it is imperative that the U.S. reconsiders its responses to them. Immediate recovery aid is essential but equally important is ensuring this aid does not worsen entrenched inequities.
If you shelter in place during a disaster, be ready for challenges after the storm
August 24, 2018
Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Texas A&M University
Ali Mostafavi does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Texas A&M University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Americans prepare for natural disasters in many ways, from obtaining flood insurance to identifying evacuation routes. But many people fail to take key steps.
I conducted a research survey in Harris County, Texas, which contains much of metro Houston, after the city was flooded by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, and found a common thread. Few respondents who stayed in place during the storm planned in advance for coping with extended service interruptions, such as road closures, power and water outages and communications interruptions.
I am a civil engineer and study interactions between people and infrastructure in disasters. In this survey I wanted to understand how different sub-populations prepare for and adjust to service disruptions during these events.
Hurricanes don’t always prompt mandatory evacuations, and even when they do, many people choose not to go. My results show that planning for losing key services, potentially for days or weeks, should be part of preparing to weather storms in place. And cities should keep their most vulnerable residents in mind as they make decisions about storm-proofing critical infrastructure systems, such as power and water.
No electricity, no phone, no toilet
Harvey flooded sewers, closed roads, downed power lines and interrupted telecommunications services across southeast Texas. Unlike tornadoes, which can selectively level one neighborhood and leave another unscathed, hurricanes are perversely egalitarian. In Houston, tony and disadvantaged neighborhoods alike bore the brunt of Harvey.
Most residents in hurricane-prone areas know to store food, stock up on water, check their flashlights and radios and plan for evacuations. But I found that relatively few Houstonians were ready for infrastructure service disruptions.
Self-reported hardships due to power outages during Harvey.
My survey was conducted three month after Harvey and included 750 Harris County residents. They rated sewer, water, electricity and communications as the most important household services, and found sewage backing up into homes from overwhelmed public water systems to be the most onerous disruption. Even households with individual on-site septic systems experienced septic tank overflow due to flooding.
Loss of potable water, which affected hygiene, drinking and food preparation, was the next greatest hardship. Electricity and telecommunications outages tied for third place, followed by road closures due to fallen trees, debris and flooding.
My students and I found that 53 percent of the people we surveyed were not well prepared for service disruption. Even the 47 percent who had laid in provisions to weather the storm had not thought specifically about service outages. Most people who self-identified as prepared underestimated the extent and length of service disruptions, and many ran out of stored food and water. A whopping 80 percent of households who were without power after the storm had not even considered the possibility of extended outages.
Most affected: Low-income and minority households, families with young children
Regardless of how well cities harden their infrastructure, service disruptions are inevitable during and after major hurricanes. Once residents accept that fact, they can adopt practical strategies for weathering storms in place.
Families that live outside of hurricane paths or flood plains can still experience extended disruptions – for example, if high winds damage power distribution networks, or local roads are blocked by downed trees. It is critical for households to understand the likelihood of service disruptions, assess their basic needs objectively and prepare for possible extended outages.
Our research showed that some population groups were especially vulnerable to losing specific services. Households with children 10 and younger self-reported that losing electricity was the most onerous hardship for them, since it made it impossible for them to refrigerate and prepare food. On the other hand, respondents age 65 and older reported that road closures were their greatest burden because they could not drive to work, grocery stores, health care facilities or pharmacies.
We also found that low-income residents and racial and ethnic minorities were less prepared overall and experienced greater hardship during post-Harvey service losses. Disaster researchers widely view these groups as vulnerable populations, since they have fewer resources to prepare or adapt to disruptions.
Interestingly, we found that seniors over 65 were better prepared to endure sewer, water and telecommunications losses after Harvey. For many of them prior experience with storms had instilled the value of preparation, and on the whole they were ready for the impending storm.
Some people choose to shelter in place during disasters because they cannot afford to leave their homes for unknown destinations.
Hardening infrastructure with people in mind
Houston is investing in a swath of flood control and flood risk reduction projects. Notably, on Aug. 25 the city adopted a $2.5 billion bond measure to overhaul the region’s flood-protection system..
Protecting homes is important, but cities should also invest in hardening infrastructure systems, such as power and water lines, to support residents who shelter in place during storms. Local communities can handle some of these upgrades. For instance, some Houston neighborhoods lost internet connectivity for as long as six weeks due to submerged utility boxes housing network electronics. This problem could be solved by raising the boxes above potential flood levels.
Identifying and hardening infrastructure components, such as power sub-stations and wastewater treatment plants, that are highly vulnerable to future storms is a critical task for utilities and city planners. Also, recognizing and protecting vulnerable sub-populations who are most affected by service outages should be a priority.
As households prepare for an storm, consideration of possible power outages, sewer backup, and road closures should factor into their decisions about evacuating or sheltering in place. If they stay, they should not underestimate the likelihood of service disruptions. No one likes to lose power or internet, but imagining the possibility of extended service outages and the resulting hardship can help households prepare and cope with the disruptions.
Ph.D. student Amir Esmalian and technical writer Jan Gerston contributed to this article.