Hurricanes can be a danger to the environment

Keren Franca

After Hurricane Michael made landfall on Florida’s Panhandle last month, the possibilities of damages it brought along with it are endless, especially environmentally wise.

By the Category 4 storm bringing the extreme winds and rain along with it, damages to the northwest Florida buildings were already anticipated; however, the destruction to Florida’s coast relating to the environment tends to not be.

“It’s interesting that there are so little studies on this topic compared to the effects [of hurricanes] on people and their houses,” said Karl Havens, a University of Florida professor and expert in the response of aquatic ecosystems to hurricanes.

But from the little that is known of hurricanes and their effect on the environment, it is to worry about.

“A hurricane totally disrupts and overwashes the immediate coastline,” said Deborah Miller, a professor at University of Florida and expert in hurricane beach erosion.

This can be due to the fact that “a lot of these hurricanes produce storm surges, and [Florida’s] ocean levels [are] already higher, so the storm surge is going to make it [even] greater,” said Havens.

Furthermore, when a hurricane like Michael hits Florida, the many lakes it has can also be transformed.

“There were two years in a row when there were hurricanes — Francis, Jean, and Irene — and they all went over Lake Okeechobee,” Havens said. “They all stirred up the mud sediments at the bottom and really transformed the lake for months where there wasn’t anything living in the water other than bacteria.”

Sadly, the possibility of the effects of a hurricane, much like Michael, don’t just end there.

As the Chief Meteorologist of University of Florida Weather Jeff Huffman said, “Hurricane Michael formed in the western Caribbean… And [it had] a track into the Gulf of Mexico.”

Because of this, during Michael’s destruction, Florida’s Panhandle was introduced to invasive species as well.

“We’ve seen that after [Hurricane Katrina] hit New Orleans,” Miller said. “All around the Louisiana and Florida coasts.”

Despite all of these tragedies already, more study still needs to be done on hurricanes and their impact on the environment, especially on the one revolving around Hurricane Michael and Florida’s Panhandle.

“It has been too soon to look at the major effects of Hurricane Michael,” Havens said.

Florida native Keren Franca is a freshman studying journalism at the University of Florida. She shows interest in numerous topics, some of which involve the environment.