Interview with a Florida teacher and his students who were affected by Hurricane Irma
The USA and the islands around the Caribbean Sea have recently been hit by a string of hurricanes. Florida was heavily impacted by Hurricane Irma from the end of August until mid-September. I was given the opportunity to ask a local Environmental Sciences teacher about how he and his class were affected by this devastation. This matter was of particular interest to me as the trend in Hurricanes is undeniable and although here in Europe we hear a lot about them, I wanted to find out first-hand how people in the area are coping.
Tampa Preparatory School is a small (about 680 students), independent school serving grades 6- 12 near downtown Tampa, FL. The school’s AP environmental science teacher, Mr. Maraghy, and his class have been following the MIS Youth Climate Summit on Twitter.
What is your class like?
Mr. Maraghy: Our AP Environmental Science class is small (7 students) with representatives from grades 11 & 12. They have a variety of experiences ranging from exclusive urban living to camping/hunting experience, to living and working on a ranch in a rural area. Most of the students have lived in Florida their whole life, but we have a student in our class from Norway, too.
To what extent have you been impacted by Hurricane Irma?
Mr. Maraghy: Depending on your location above sea level there are different evacuation zones labeled A – E. My home, in St. Petersburg, FL, is located in zone B and we were issued a mandatory evacuation notice on Saturday, September 9. This means that you can stay, but you are taking your life into your own hands and if flooding occurs and you are in danger, no one will be able to come help you. Having two children (ages 11 & 8), a dog and two cats, we certainly were not taking any chances. We secured our yard and home the best that we could and we evacuated to Ruskin, FL on the other side of Tampa Bay. We stayed with my wife’s mother from Saturday afternoon to Tuesday (September 12) morning. When the storm passed over us overnight Sunday into Monday it had lost a lot of its strength and was only a category 1. We lost power for about 18 hours and a few bushes were knocked over. At our house, many branches from a large oak tree were knocked down and we were without electricity until Wednesday night. Not having electricity complicates modern living (communications, keeping devices charged, etc.), but the most difficult part is the lack of air conditioning in the 85-90-degree Fahrenheit heat. There were people in our area who did not have electricity until the beginning of the following week. There are some parts of Florida that still do not have electricity. There are parts of south Florida that were hit when the storm was at category 4 and 3. Many places were (and still are) flooded and homes destroyed. Our area, in general, was extraordinarily lucky.
Do you believe that Hurricane Irma is a product of climate change? If yes, to what extent?
Mr. Maraghy: Hurricanes are natural occurrences and can regularly be expected between June and October every year in the Northern Atlantic. Irma was very intense as it formed and developed over warm, open water in the Atlantic. Traditionally, there have been periodic category 5 hurricanes, but the size and duration of incredibly high winds (>185 miles/hour for more than 36 hours) is extremely unusual. It is not possible to get that intense of a storm without unusual conditions to create it, which is a result of ongoing and increasing climate change.
Is there a trend amongst natural disasters (such as hurricanes), and do you believe that these natural phenomena will continue to become more frequent/worse?
Mr. Maraghy: As an isolated storm, Irma was powerful and could be seen as an unusual event, but there were two other major (category 3 or higher) hurricanes (Jose and Katia) happening at the same time. Additionally, Hurricane Harvey repeatedly hit Texas and Louisiana as a category 4 at the end of August/beginning of September. These storms taken together are a strong indication of climate change that is occurring and is an indication of what is to come.
Without getting too political or controversial, there is a general trend in the U.S. to doubt or reject scientific evidence on a variety of topics including climate change. There is also a disconnect between environmentalism, which can be extreme at times, and environmental science. This often makes people “turn off” when there is any mention of environmental issues and the importance of doing something about them.
Mr. Maraghy’s students sent me videos of their responses to the questions above. Below are quotes from their videos.
Ava: I believe that Hurricane Irma was strengthened by climate change, but not directly produced by it. I believe that the warmer temperatures caused by climate change are enabling hurricanes to grow stronger. I don’t think that there’s much of a trend with natural disasters, you can’t really predict them that well, there are so many different factors that lead to them. But, I do believe that the rising temperatures from climate change will make them more frequent.
Micah: I think that Hurricane Irma is definitely a product of climate change because it’s one of the biggest storms that has occurred in this area so I think that the only reason that’s happening is because of climate change, hurricanes are getting bigger and more powerful. I think that there is a trend with natural disasters and that it will continue to become more frequent or worse.
Courtney: Hurricane Irma inflicted a sense of fear in Floridians. There were a lot of preparations prior to this storm. I do believe that climate change affected the hurricane due to the fact hurricanes build off warm ocean water and that water has been significantly warmer due to excess greenhouse gas emissions being released into the atmosphere. These gases are connected to animal agriculture and when it increases due to population increases, there’s more of these gases being released into the atmosphere. So, it’s not a coincidence Hurricane Irma was one of the strongest of all time. I believe there is a trend with natural disasters today and they will continue to get worse and more frequent due to our lack of the environment and its worsening conditions.
Megan: I live on a ranch and even two weeks later we still have a lot of flooding and a lot of our oak trees are down. It’s a big mess. I do believe Hurricane Irma was a product of climate change because it was just so bad and there are so many storms still going on that keep pushing up into Florida and the east coast and on the islands. Having this many storms this close together, that are all this bad has to be due to climate change…I think these storms are going to get worse and more frequent. That seems to be happening now and it would make sense for that to continue in the future.
Abby: I didn’t have power for four days. However, there are people no longer with a home…It’s really tragic what happened farther south of me and the Keys….June or July through October is hurricane season so no matter what we’re expecting hurricanes. However, did [climate change] intensify the situation with the ocean temperatures rising, did it intensify the hurricane? Maybe. I don’t know…If we keep treating the earth the way that we are, we’re just making our planet sicker.
Ryan: I do believe Hurricane Irma was a product of climate change…I believe in homeostasis and that humanity has given a great influx of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and that would disrupt and create an imbalance in the earth’s atmosphere. I believe that could be one of the causes for Hurricane Irma. I do believe though that these natural disasters will continue and be more frequent if we continue the amount of non-environmentally friendly ways which would produce more carbon dioxide and bring the earth even farther away from homeostasis and this, in turn, will produce even more hurricanes.
THANK YOU SO MUCH to Mr. Maraghy and his students for talking with us about their experiences with Hurricane Irma. We are so glad you’re safe and we look forward to connecting with you on more climate change-related topics in the future!