With record-breaking hurricanes forecast for the Atlantic in 2024, scientists are helping Caribbean communities adapt to a warming world.

Preparing for the Atlantic hurricane season is all the time a top priority within the Caribbean, especially when forecasts predict a high variety of storms, as is the case for 2024. The most devastating storm within the region in recent times, Hurricane Mariastruck in September 2017, causing unprecedented destruction in Puerto Rico, Dominica, St. Croix and other islands.

Maria killed over 3,000 people and caused damage of about 96 billion US dollarsIt destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid and left 1.5 million customers without power as much as 328 days – the longest power outage in U.S. history. These outages had cascading effects on other infrastructure, corresponding to water and communications systems.

Today, the Caribbean is facing latest climate-related challenges. Due to the accelerated warming of the oceans, prolonged extreme heat and humid days have gotten more frequent.

In response to those increasingly frequent and extreme weather events, I joined forces with a dozen other researchers in 2023 to review the Caribbean Climate Adaptation NetworkOur goal is to attach scientists with communities and government agencies within the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and supply scientific information that might help them prepare for and reply to emerging climate extremes.

I’m a Coastal Urban Climatologist and a native of Puerto Rican. The creation of this network has been extremely necessary to me personally. I hope it is going to solidify our existing partnerships for longer-term collaboration between leading academic researchers, vulnerable communities, government agencies and utilities on the islands and function a platform to succeed in out to the whole Caribbean.

Our mission is to develop latest ways to view the coastal and concrete environment as a unified system – one which puts people at the middle and integrates human-made systems like buildings and infrastructure with natural systems just like the atmosphere, ecosystems, and oceans. All of those elements face the challenge of climate change. We wish to support vulnerable communities by conducting research that could make them more resilient to climate change and convey them to the table so we will create higher solutions together.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a record variety of hurricanes and tropical storms within the Atlantic by 2024.

Lessons from Puerto Rico’s recovery

Puerto Rico has made its power grid more resilient within the years since Hurricane Maria, but challenges remain. Over 1 million customers on the island have experienced intermittent outages for the reason that hurricane. In September 2022 Hurricane Fiona – a much weaker Category 1 storm – hit Puerto Rico, causing an influence outage across the island.

Puerto Rico's power grid is fragile, largely due to aging infrastructure and the island's regular exposure to extreme weather events attributable to global warming. Nevertheless, local utilities have made significant progress in stabilizing a really complex power grid in any respect points. From production to distributionThe generation of solar energy – especially from small rooftop systems that may supply individual households and businesses with electricity during power outages – is play a very important role to make the system more resilient.

Aerial view of the roof of a hypermarket covered with photovoltaic modules.
Solar panels on the roof of a Walmart store in Caguas, Puerto Rico.
Walmart/Flickr, From

In 2023, I led a bunch of researchers in reconstructing the impacts of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico. We used a mix of geophysical models, engineering models of the facility and water grids, reviews of injury reports, and socioeconomic information to indicate how proposed hurricane preparedness strategies would affect low-income communities.

We have learned that essentially the most effective technique to protect all community members is to strengthen the transmission grid in order that it may possibly withstand future impacts from events like Hurricane Maria. This will likely require latest transmission towers that may withstand extremely high winds and soil saturation. It could also include limiting exposure through measures corresponding to burying power lines. We haven’t studied the prices of those solutions, but presumably they’d be very high.

Since then, we now have partnered again to reconstruct other major weather events in Puerto Rico and collect latest data, specializing in resilient electricity infrastructure and climate change adaptation. For this work, we install unique sensors on power poles and contours while observing the natural conditions around these transmission assets. These devices repeatedly measure the mechanical stress on the poles and the power of the transmission lines to handle the facility load under various weather and demand conditions, including extreme weather events.

By reconstructing past storms, collecting latest data on the state of Puerto Rico's infrastructure, and using machine learning algorithms, we plan to develop latest frameworks for predictive models to anticipate the chance of power transmission system disruptions during extreme weather events.

Inform regional measures

In recent years, our research group has used satellite observations to find out that Caribbean sea surface temperatures are increasing by nearly 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) per decade – a few of the fastest ocean warming on earthThis trend has a direct impact on the chance of more frequent and intense hurricanes.

It also affects ambient temperatures on land, resulting in extreme heat conditions. In the summer of 2023, town of San Juan experienced a sustained heat wave with heat indices above 38 °C. This level is taken into account unhealthy for most individuals.

Heat warnings and record temperatures forced the federal government to do all the pieces it could to guard students. Public schools took the unprecedented step of Classes cancelled across the islandThis event highlighted the importance of monitoring the state of the Caribbean Ocean and anticipating its impacts on people, infrastructure and ecosystems.

Two graphs show the average daily heat indices in San Juan for 2000–2020 (left) and in summer 2023 (right).
Puerto Rico has a tropical climate, because the graph on the left shows. However, in the summertime of 2023, heat indices repeatedly rose to dangerous levels, because the graph on the suitable shows.
Jorge González-Cruz, CC BY-ND

My colleagues on the Caribbean Climate Adaptation Network and I imagine our findings are transferable to other Caribbean communities. Our work may profit coastal areas within the Americas, where critical infrastructure is extremely exposed and storms often hit essentially the most vulnerable people hardest.

We hope our work with communities will result in broader education and latest actionable science that may guide climate change adaptation decisions and risk mitigation investments. Specifically, we aim to develop strategies to make island infrastructure significantly more resilient and adaptive, in addition to safeguards to guard communities and maintain a way of normalcy in a warmer climate.

image credit : theconversation.com