Are there hidden benefits to hurricanes?

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When a hurricane hits, it’s hard to think of anything but destruction and loss of life.

These are horrible storms to experience and the recovery can take years. Without minimizing the devastating parts of hurricanes, it is important to understand where hurricanes fit into the natural world. While you still don’t want a hurricane to destroy a city, you might at least understand why we need hurricanes.

Hurricanes are older than humans

Hurricanes were not created on Earth to destroy humans. Hurricanes have been around much longer than humans. It was when humans started living along the oceans that hurricanes became a big problem. Before this human behavior started, a devastating hurricane could have hit the land, but the only thing damaged was the vegetation. In no time, the hurricane-affected area was back to full health.

Heat distribution

The equator always receives more energy from the sun than the poles. Ocean currents and storms capture some of the heat from the equator and redistribute it across the Earth. Hurricanes take a lot of heat energy from the equator and move it much farther north.

Scientists are able to track the temperature of the ocean before and after a hurricane, and the water behind the hurricane is always much colder because the hurricane has taken much of that heat energy with it. Without this heat distribution, the tropics would get hotter and hotter while the poles would get colder. Hurricanes make Earth more habitable by dampening the heat somewhat.

Hurricanes are island builders

As destructive as hurricanes seem to be, they actually build islands. Because hurricanes shake the ocean so violently, sand is picked up from the ocean floor and deposited on the islands. Many of these islands are called barrier islands and form lines of islands a short distance off our coast. These barrier islands stop some of the most damaging waves before they reach the mainland. If we had no more hurricanes, most islands would slowly sink back into the ocean and disappear forever.

Heavy rains

While headlines show the destructive flooding that occurs when a hurricane hits, what is often overlooked is what happens to the hurricane after it makes landfall. In many cases, hurricanes move up the eastern half of the United States (in a much weaker form) and provide days of beneficial precipitation.

When this happens, it replenishes the typical very dry ground after a long, hot summer and early fall. If hurricanes did not exist, our ecosystems across the continent would be different due to the annual decline in soil moisture content. In this respect, hurricanes give life to many ecosystems.

Keep the water clean

The very warm water is a perfect place for the growth of toxic red tides and bacteria, both of which have increased due to warming oceans associated with climate change. Red tide outbreaks sickened communities and caused beach closures. Hurricanes significantly reduce bacteria and red tide buildup in two ways.

First, the violent waves break, developing toxic colonies; and second, the colder water left behind by a hurricane is not ideal for red tide growth.

There are scientists who have ideas about how hurricanes can be weakened or even avoided, but most scientists say that’s a bad idea in the long run. What worries many, however, is how climate change is making hurricanes bigger and stronger.

Remember that humans got in the way of hurricanes by building homes and towns so close to the ocean. On the other hand, you can’t blame humans for wanting to visit and live in beautiful places. However, this beauty will be an occasional and very high price to pay in the event of hurricanes.

Mike Szydlowski is a science teacher and zoo animator at Jefferson STEAM School.

IT’S TIME FOR A POP QUIZ

Can a hurricane ever benefit Missouri? Why or why not?

How do hurricanes bring more life to ecosystems?

Why is the human behavior that causes hurricanes so expensive?

What if we didn’t have hurricanes?

Should scientists develop ways to reduce the frequency of hurricanes? Why or why not?

ANSWERS TO LAST WEEK’S POP QUIZ

What is the original purpose of allergic reactions in the body?

An allergic reaction is meant to attack and eliminate harmful invaders from your body.

Why do peanuts hurt some people?

It’s not that peanuts hurt our bodies – it’s that bodies allergic to peanuts misinterpret the particles of a peanut.

What is the best environment to raise a baby to avoid possible allergies later in life?

Babies need to be raised with pets and other experiences that expose them to natural environmental particles.

Which adult is most likely to have environmental allergies? The one who played outside a lot when he was young or the one who stayed indoors when he was young? Why?

A child who grew up with lots of outdoor exposure is less likely to develop allergies because their body might get used to the particles when they were very young.

It is believed that more humans have allergies now than ever before. Why?

It is believed that humans were exposed to more environmental factors in their first two years than they are today. This allows some people to develop resistance to these particles.

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