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Sept. 7, 2023

Peak hurricane season is September, October: MSU experts can comment

Hurricanes Idalia and Lee have already packed a punch, but climatologists are now predicting more hurricanes this season, which doesn’t end until Nov. 30. Though previous projections suggested a milder hurricane season, we’re now on track for theeighth consecutive year of above-average activity. Michigan State University experts provide comments on the scientific, economic and government issues surrounding hurricanes.


Lifeng Luo is the director of MSU’s Environmental Science and Policy Program, as well as a professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences in the College of Social Science. Luo is an expert in the variability and predictability of climate, hydro climatology, and resource management, among other areas.


“A number of factors are at play in the formation and intensification of tropical storms, and the most important one is the warm ocean. More specifically, the sea surface temperature needs to be at least 80 F or 26.5 C for storms to develop. As the ocean has absorbed a large amount of heat due to global warming, the sea surface temperature has been going up gradually over the last century. Trends can be stronger locally in some regions, such as the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Other factors include circulation patterns and modes of climate variability like El Nino. Additionally, La Nina tends to increase the number of tropical storms in the Atlantic basin due to reduced vertical wind shear. With three La Ninas in a row in the last three years, climate variability may also contribute to the fact that you see consecutive above-normal hurricane seasons.

“In terms of natural disasters, Michigan is among the safest states in the US. The impact of Atlantic hurricanes here has been limited given how far we are from the east coast at this latitude and the typical storm tracks. We can still see rainfall (sometimes heavy) associated with a hurricane after it makes landfall and if it moves northward, but it can hardly produce torrential rainfall as typically seen in the rain bands of the hurricane.”

Mark Skidmore is the Morris Chair in State and Local Government Finance and Policy as well as the resident fellow at MSU Extension’s Center for Local Government Finance and Policy. Additionally, Skidmore is an economics professor in both the colleges of Social Science and Agriculture and Natural Resources. He is an expert in the relationship between government activities and economic development, including incentives, as well as the economics of natural disasters.


“According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, the United States experienced 363 weather-related disasters over the 1980-2023 period. Estimates indicate that these disasters resulted in $2.59 trillion in damages of which roughly half are attributable to hurricanes and tropical storms. Though there is significant variability in damages from storm to storm, on average each storm results in about $1 billion in damages.

“There are several tiers of support that help communities rebuild. As an immediate response, the priority is to provide access to basic needs such as food, water, shelter, fuel and the restoration of electricity and communications. As core needs are met, authorities may focus on rebuilding damaged public infrastructure. Finally, resources flowing in from insurance, private savings and governments help households and business regain a foothold and reestablish operations. Longer-term, it is often helpful to review weaknesses in infrastructure and preparations to reduce vulnerability in the future.

“Federal government assistance sometimes weakens incentives for households, businesses and subnational governments to take disaster risk-reduction measures.Why engage in otherwise appropriate risk-reduction measures when federal assistance is available? For example, a property owner may be more inclined to build a vacation home on an exposed beach if it is known that the government will help pay for repairs. Thus, there is tension between providing a safety net for those exposed to disasters and increasing exposure to disasters.”

Seven Mattes is an assistant professor at the Center for Integrative Studies in the College of Social Science. Mattes is an expert in disaster preparedness and multispecies resiliency, as well as animal studies.


“While hurricanes are a part of life for coastal residents, both the storms and thelocal populationshave increased in number and intensity. As anthropogenic climate change increases the number of storms and human population grows in coastal regions, how we approach preparedness is an ongoing adaptive effort to the new conditions. Thus, while improvements in preparedness have been implemented in coastal states across the U.S., numerous vulnerabilities remain. There are innumerable recommendations for improving hurricane preparedness in the U.S.

  • Strengthening those natural structures that have historically shielded the habitats of humans and nonhumans alike — wetlands, salt marshes, reefs, dunes, mangrove forests, etc. — is an effective means to improve resilience to hurricane impacts. Preserving and valuing natural structures protect against storm surges, flooding and other damaging forces while also supporting the wildlife that reside within. 
  • Improving existing infrastructure to withstand intensified impacts — especially in low-income communities — is urgently needed. 
  • Funding programs and incentives to educate and organize on the local level are essential — learning from, building on and sharing local knowledge ensures community preparedness. 
  • Addressing the preventable vulnerability that results from developing hurricane-prone zones, like building homes and structures in low-lying coastal areas, drains resources at all stages of disaster preparedness. 
  • Including companion species in planning and policy insofar as they impact human safety and decision-making like the PETS Act following Hurricane Katrina. Agricultural animals are especially vulnerable to hurricane impacts, as we saw with Hurricane Florence — millions of chickens and thousands of hogs were killed in the resulting floods. Approaching disaster preparedness with an awareness of the broader multispecies communitiesin which they live can aid in building resiliency for all within.”

Simone Theresa Peinkofer is an associate professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management in the Broad College of Business, and she also serves as the director of the college’s Logistics Doctoral Program. Peinkofer is an expert in retail supply chain management, consumer-based strategy in supply chain management and omnichannel fulfillment operations.


“Depending on the path of the hurricane, it can delay freight movement. For example, ports and airports might shut down for an extended period, and the high winds and rainfall can make the movement of freight via train and trucks impossible and unsafe. Hurricanes can also damage goods that are in transit or stored in a warehouse if the warehouse is in the path of the storm. Hence, hurricanes can lead to loss in revenue and potentially higher prices for businesses. Depending on the region in the world, hurricanes or typhoons or cyclones can impact global supply chains. For example, Vietnam’s typhoon season is year-round and so typhoons can also shut down key manufacturing plants and delay or damage international freight.

“Companies should have a risk management plan in place that helps guide them through the disaster and especially through the recovery efforts. Additionally, companies in the path of a hurricane would want to closely monitor the situation and prepare accordingly by, for example, rerouting freight to a different port or airport. It’s important to act early on.”

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