Hurricanes versus Earthquakes: How Natural Disasters Compare between Florida and California

by Gary Griggs, author of Coasts in Crisis: A Global Challenge

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, followed by Jose and Katia next in line, like commuters on the freeway headed for work. What’s going on here? We generally don’t think too much about hurricanes here in California, but it’s hard to miss the news now.

Hurricane Harvey may be the most damaging storm to ever hit the United States. And in terms of wind speed in miles per hour, Irma is reported as being the strongest hurricane ever recorded and it has yet to hit the coast of Florida. Irma is currently leaving a path of complete destruction as it blasts through the Caribbean. On the island of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control, There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Homes are under water, cars are floating through the streets, and inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and cut off from the outside world. These aren’t losses that are going to be repaired or replaced in a few weeks time. It will take months to years to return to normal.

Some residents of the Atlantic coast of the US are often quoted as saying that they would much rather live with hurricanes—where at least you know they’re coming—rather than the uncertainty of earthquakes that we all live with here in California. The truth, however, is that while large earthquakes in the United States present clear dangers, they don’t begin to compare with hurricanes in terms of damage of loss of life. Our average annual death toll from earthquakes in the United States over the past century or so is about 20 per year. If fact, in the entire 240 year history of the United States, there has only been a single earthquake that led to deaths of more than 200 people, and that was the great San Francisco shock of 1906. We just don’t get big earthquakes that often, at least historically, although they will come and we shouldn’t be complacent about them.

Hurricanes, however, have been responsible for more loss of life in the United States than any other natural hazard. While California may get a damaging earthquake every decade or so, we can get multiple hurricanes in a single season, and 2017 is making that abundantly clear.

Over 60 million people along the U.S. Gulf and South Atlantic coasts live in coastal counties that are vulnerable to hurricanes and, like most coastal regions, those populations continue to increase. From 1900 to 2015, there were 631 hurricanes that affected these counties as well as the Caribbean region, or 5.4 per year on average. 245 of these, or about two each year, have been classed as major hurricanes based on damage and death tolls. On average, about 800 fatalities have been recorded yearly, but this likely is an underestimate as reliable information from older hurricanes is often lacking. Losses are unfortunately increasing every year because more people are retiring to warm hurricane-prone areas like Florida, and investment in homes and other development, and their values, are increasing.


Gary Griggs is Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is author or coauthor of Introduction to California’s Beaches and CoastLiving with the Changing California CoastCalifornia Coast from the Air, The Santa Cruz Coast (Then and Now), and Our Ocean Backyard.


Help Your Students Understand the Impact of the End of DACA

This post is part of our blog series Integrate Current Events Into Your Courses, which aims to provide lecture topics and corresponding course books that will help your students think critically about today’s conversations on social inequality.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in six months if Congress cannot find a different and more permanent solution. The statements Attorney General Jeff Sessions has used to describe many DACA recipients have been said to be misleading. And clarification about how DACA came about, who is affected, and what will happen next has been shared widely (click on Twitter hashtags #DACA #DREAMer to see the volume of commentary that’s been generated since earlier this week).

What has been sorely missed are the personal stories—those of people who were brought here as children to escape persecution or other hardships, have lived here in the United States peacefully, and are now poised to productively contribute to society. One such story is that of Jesus Contreras, a Houston-area paramedic who has been helping his community in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. And others, such as the DACA recipient who participated in a sit-down interview at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s home, notes that, “[a]ll we’re asking for is a chance . . . I urge members of Congress to meet a DREAMer.”

Books That Integrate Current Events Into Your Courses

Below are recommended books you can assign to help students put a face to those affected by the end of DACA.

Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America by Roberto G. Gonzales, winner of the 2016 C. Wright Mills Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems

Roberto has written about how DACA beneficiaries contribute to society. He continues to serve as champion to immigrant children and has recently discussed how DACA has affected their mental health and well-being.

“It will stand as the definitive study of the undocumented coming of age in our midst. It is a book every teacher, every policymaker, indeed every concerned citizen should read and ponder.”—Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, coeditor of Latinos: Remaking America

 

 

Whose Child Am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody by Susan J. Terrio

Susan has written about what happens to undocumented children and families in the Trump era. She has also been interviewed regarding her thoughts on U.S. government’s treatment of children and who has access to the American dream.

“An impressive grasp of relevant history, law, policy and practice. Essential reading for anyone interested in one of the US’s most urgent contemporary human rights challenges.”–Jacqueline Bhabha, Harvard University

 

 

Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families by Joanna Dreby, winner of the 2017 Distinguished Contribution to Research Award, Section for Latina/o Sociology, American Sociological Association

Joanna writes about how to tell children not to be afraid. She is committed to discussing and changing policies that undermine immigrant families.

“Eloquent and sharp… an important contribution to the literature on undocumented populations.”—Harvard Educational Review

 

 

 

Dreams and Nightmares: Immigration Policy, Youth, and Families by Marjorie S. Zatz and Nancy Rodriguez

Marjorie speaks frequently about how sweeping political decisions have enormous consequences to swaths of people living in the U.S.

“Highly valuable… this book is a combination of informative resources, rigorous social science research, and is well written to boot!”—Sociology and Social Welfare

 

 

 

 

Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation by Deborah Boehm

Deborah discusses the fate of returnees and deportees, or “lost citizens.” Her research has focused on migrants’ lives before and after federal custody but she now intends to do research on detention itself.

“Boehm challenges sterile depictions of deportations in the media and political debates. This urgent book is a must read.”—Cecilia Menjívar, author of Immigrant Families

 

See other books on immigration and read the Immigration Syllabus: UC Press Edition#ImmigrationSyllabus