Strengthening Storms

Strong storm events can overwhelm the absorptive capacity of soils and vegetation, create challenges for crop and livestock production, degrade riparian habitats, and send large quantities of sediment and pollution into rivers, lakes, estuaries, and coastal waters.

How Are Storms Strengthening?

Hurricane strength is influenced by sea surface temperature. Already, the sea surface temperature of the tropical Atlantic Ocean is approximately 1°F higher than it was a century ago, and current predictions suggest it could rise another 5°F by the end of this century. As a result, the number of intense hurricanes is also expected to increase over the course of this century. Some models indicate that the frequency of Category 4 and 5 storms could double by 2100.

Implications for Land Trusts

Wind rain and storm surges from hurricanes and tropical storms present a significant threat to coastal and inland habitats, plants and wildlife. Species with specific habitat needs and/or limited distribution are especially vulnerable. For example, the red-cockaded woodpecker suffered a devastating blow in 1989, when Hurricane Hugo destroyed 87% of the species’ nesting trees in the Francis Marion National Forest.

The potential impacts of stronger include:

  • Coastal flooding and habitat destruction due to high winds, rain, and storm surge.
  • Destruction of agricultural crops and/or loss of livestock due to flooding events.
  • Increased erosion and runoff.
  • Degradation of riparian habitats, due to increased runoff and higher rates of sedimentation.

Stronger – and possibly more frequent – storms may also compound other climate change impacts, such as:

Tips for Planning: What Land Trusts Are Doing

Cooperatively Working Towards Conservation Goals.

Land trusts are responding to on-the-ground impacts of strengthening storms in various ways. After Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, coastal resilience planning projects received an infusion of funding across the Atlantic Coast. Many of these projects supported the deployment of green infrastructure and coastal wetland restoration in developed areas. In addition to employing strategic conservation planning to reduce risks and enhance resilience, some land trusts are also supporting efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the extent of future climate change.

Land trusts must determine the right planning approach for their organization, however, more and more, conservation organizations are working with their communities to identify opportunities to reduce vulnerabilities and prepare for changing temperatures. Agencies are making similar strides to implement projects that reduce risks and plan for resilience by incorporating adaptation, mitigation, and engagement into their strategic goals and objectives. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change identifies seven planning and development goals to support sustainable landscapes. Conservation groups are increasingly partnering with agencies as well as other nonprofits and for-profit organizations to respond to this global challenge at local levels.

Building resilience for multiple management objectives.

Resilience describes the ability of a system to persist through extreme change. By working to identify and reduce potential threats land managers can build resilience and achieve multiple management objectives. Assessing vulnerabilities is a critical step in the strategic conservation planning process that helps land trusts identify key threats to resources. Adaptive management planning enables conservation practitioners to implement interventions to reduce vulnerabilities and to monitor and revise strategies as new information becomes available. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing management challenges associated with warming average temperatures, however, planning that acknowledges vulnerabilities can help land trusts better achieve their conservation objectives.

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