Hurricane season just officially started last week, but it’s off to a terrifying start. Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall on Sunday, bringing dangerous weather to the Southeast.
By Monday morning, Cristobal had weakened significantly with wind speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. That means it’s no long a tropical storm but a tropical depression. That hasn’t stopped it from wreaking havoc, though.
The main threats have been watery. Cristobal brought up to five feet of storm surge ashore in Louisiana and Mississippi as well as Alabama’s Dauphin Island. In New Orleans, flooding filled the streets and even rushed over the top of a levee. Heavy rain further exacerbated flooding issues. The National Hurricane Center is calling for up to 15 inches of rain to fall over the Southeast as the tropical depression moves inland. Even Florida has gotten in on the action, seeing not just rain, but a tornado.
The storm is expected to swirl north across the Midwest in the coming days, spreading a trail of rain. Flash flood watches and warnings stretch all the way to Wisconsin, showing that though Cristobal never achieved hurricane status, it’s impacts will be widespread.
Cristobal is third earliest named storm on record in the Atlantic Basin, following Arthur and Bertha this year. The storm’s track has been an odd one, crossing over from the Eastern Pacific where it was Tropical Storm Amanda. As Amanda, it traversed Central America and killed dozens of people in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico last week in what was the first named storm of the Pacific hurricane season.
The response to the storm has been complicated by the covid-19 pandemic. Residents were forced to decide whether to evacuate their homes and move into packed shelters where it’s hard to effectively social distance. With no end in site, the pandemic will continue to pose additional risks throughout hurricane season, which runs through November. Cristobal is far from the most severe storm expected to threaten the Atlantic basin this season.
A recently released forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects up to 19 named storms, including three to six major hurricanes. Those major storms—ranked Category 3 or higher—are big worries when it comes to property damage and loss of life. A separate recent study shows that the climate crisis is making hurricanes stronger. Sea level rise is also contributing to higher storm surge, adding another layer of concern when hurricanes make landfall.