2017 is shaping up to be the worst year in U.S. history for weather and climate disasters. According to NOAA, the mainland has already endured 15 weather disasters exceeding $1 billion each. Drought, floods, severe storms, tropical cyclones, a wildfire, a crop-killing cold snap, and record-setting hurricanes.

Adjusted for inflation, a typical year in the U.S. will see only five such events. Since 2012 the average has been 10.6 weather disasters each costing taxpayers more than $1 billion per year.

Weather and climate disasters are growing larger, wetter, stronger, and as they shift to new locations, some places are seeing them more often. This is not a coincidence. Warmer seawater and warmer air conspire to make more intense weather events, and in places where they didn’t used to occur.

Sea level is rising and tides, like these king tides at Queen’s Surf Beach in May, are getting higher. We need to start paying attention to and planning for the impacts of climate change.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

At one point in August 2015 we were simultaneously monitoring three hurricanes  — Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena, all three of them Category 4. Big enough to take down your house and drive over 15 feet of storm surge.

We can’t relax or lose focus on this high priority issue. Soon the warm waters of El Niño will return to Hawaii and it will again be our turn.

In the El Niño of 2015-2016 Hawaii experienced severe heat, flash floods, nine months of drought, massive waves, eroded roads and beaches, coral bleaching across the state, and more tropical cyclones than ever seen in a single year.

Global warming drives this inexorable increase. And in Hawaii, El Niño adds short term bursts of intensity. Climate models tell us Hawaii will see more strong El Niños, and more hurricanes, as the world continues to warm.

The Hawaii Climate Commission had its first meeting this past Wednesday. I’m not sure if you heard about it – they want you to chime in with your thoughts on priorities and next steps.

Here is mine.

In the 25 years since Hurricane Iniki we have grown more vulnerable to a land-falling hurricane. And despite a lot of talk and reports, we really haven’t done anything meaningful to prepare for the next one.

Have you been watching what Puerto Rico has been going through? And they aren’t a 5-hour plane ride from the mainland. I think the Commission needs to get us ready for the next hurricane, it’s a matter of when, not if.

I hope the people of Hawaii embrace our new commission which landed with a whisper last Wednesday. We need to prepare before climate change lands with a bang.

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