Grand Bahama and the Abaco islands have been wiped out as Dorian moves towards the Florida coast and scientists blame climate change for its destructive force.

The Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, has said the islands are “decimated” and said that he expects the current death toll of seven to go up.

The Abaco Islands in the north of the Bahaman archipelago experienced the strongest ever winds recorded on land.

“We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information,” he said.

“Our priority at this time is search, rescue, and recovery. It will take all of us as a caring community – government, church, businesses, and individuals – to help restore the lives of our people,” Minnis added.

People are using social media to post lists of those that have been lost during the storm.

Aerial photographs of the Abacos showed an apocalyptic scene with roofs torn off, debris scattered everywhere and overturned cars, boats and shipping containers.

Hurricane Dorian has also caused severe damage to Grand Bahama and has now moved north eastwards to threaten the eastern US coast but has yet to make landfall there.

The situation on Grand Bahama is less clear as major relief agencies have not yet managed to get there. The situation was also worsened because Dorian sat over the island for two days pummelling it with 200-mile an hour winds.

Howard Armstrong, a crab fisherman from Freeport on Grand Bahama, said the floodwaters reached to roof of his house.

“[My wife] got hypothermia and she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated. I kept with her and she just drowned on me,” he told CNN.

UN officials estimate that 60,000 people will need clean water and food aid, while the International Red Cross said that around 45% of homes – about 13,000 properties – on Grand Bahama and the Abacos has been destroyed or severely damaged.

The US National Hurricane Centre said that Dorian was expected to weaken over the next few days but would remain powerful and is forecast to move “dangerously close” to the Florida and Georgia coasts on Wednesday night.

Climate Change is Making Hurricanes Worse

Although scientists can’t say yet if climate change is increasing the number of hurricanes, they are certain that a warming climate is making the ones we do have much more powerful and destructive.

A rise in sea surface temperatures causes a strengthening of wind speed in storms and an increase in the amount of precipitation. Sea surface temperatures were more than 1C warmer in the area of the Atlantic where Dorian formed than 100 years ago.

Scientists have calculated that for each 1C of warming there is roughly a 7% increase in maximum potential wind speed, and since the destructive potential is proportional to a third power of the wind speed, that means there is 23% increase in potential wind damage.

Dorian was the fourth category 5 hurricane in the last four years.

As well as increased wind speeds, sea levels will rise between one and four feet over the next century and this means that storm surges will push further inland and cause more coastal flooding and much worse damage.

Another area in which climate change is causing more damage is that warmer water in the oceans is causing storms to increase in intensity much faster than previously. Dorian went from being a category 2 hurricane to an extreme category 5 in just two days.  

Climate change is also causing storms to linger in one place for longer, rather than moving along at a steady pace. Research is now concluding that changes to the jet stream because of global warming are causing storms to stall resulting in a 10% decrease in the speed of storms globally.

Photograph from USA Today

Edward Cowley