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Bracing for Hurricanes

December 4, 2008

Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Sunshine State, but some scientists say they are becoming more destructive due to global warming. According to scientists meeting in Orlando today for the Hurricane Science Safety Leadership Forum, rising sea temperatures and sea levels caused by global warming fuel stronger storms, higher storm surges and more flooding.

Dr. Amanda Staudt, climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, is a speaker at the forum.

"We have an opportunity now to reduce the overall threat of global warming, and at the same time take some measures to protect ourselves from the changes that are going to happen."

Critics say changing weather patterns are a natural phenomenon and have nothing to do with global warming. But Staudt says the level of hurricane destructiveness has increased 50 per cent in the last few decades, and is likely to continue to rise.

That's why scientists, risk managers and policymakers are working together at the forum to develop guidelines to minimize risk, increase public safety and improve the environment, Staudt explains.

"We need to remove some of the incentive for developing in high-risk areas. We need to begin to invest more in restoration and increased protection of these natural buffers. And we need to account for the fact that we're likely to have stronger wind speeds in the future."

Staudt believes risk managers and environmentalists share areas of concern, arguing that what is good for hurricane protection is also good for the environment. For example, she recommends developing wetlands as a natural buffer against storm surge damage. Although critics say investing money in strategies to minimize hurricane damage is impossible in a recession, Staudt responds that every acre of wetlands saves $3,300 in costs from hurricane destruction.

"Having these natural buffers makes sense for improving the safety of our communities, and we get the added benefit of great wildlife habitat."

Gina Presson/Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL