Paddling in a canoe through the flood waters left by Hurricane Eta in his rural village near the north coast of Honduras, Adán Herrera took stock of the damage.
“Compared with Hurricane Mitch, this caused more damage because the water rose so fast,” said Herrera, 33, a subsistence farmer who is living on top of a nearby levee with his wife and child while they wait for the water to recede. “We’re afraid we might not have anything to eat.”
Hurricane Mitch in 1998 was the most destructive storm to hit Central America. But hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers across the region have lost everything in flooding caused by Eta, which made landfall in Nicaragua as a category 4 hurricane on 3 November. Now, with a second hurricane projected to make landfall on Monday near where Eta did, even more could find themselves in the same situation.
Climate scientists say that this year’s record-breaking hurricane season and the “unprecedented” double blow for Central America has a clear link to the climate crisis.
“In a 36-hour period [Eta] went from a depression to a very strong category 4,” said Bob Bunting, CEO of the non-profit Climate Adaptation Center. “That is just not normal. Probably it was the fastest spin up from a depression to a major hurricane in history.”
The evidence of the influence of the climate crisis is not so much in the record-breaking 30 tropical storms in the Atlantic so far this year, but the strength, rapid intensification and total rainfall of these weather systems.
“The warmer ocean waters that climate change brings are expected to make the stronger storms stronger and make them rapidly intensify more frequently and at a greater rate,” said Dr Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and contributor to Yale Climate Connections. “These things have already been observed, particularly in the Atlantic, and it’s going to be increasingly so in coming decades.”