Supporting recovery from the 2017 hurricane season
Interagency collaboration supported recovery efforts after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
During the 2017 hurricane season, hurricanes Irma and Maria, two of the most significant storms to affect Florida and the U.S. Caribbean in recent history, caused catastrophic damage that affected ecosystems, livelihoods, and economic stability throughout the region. USGCRP provided one venue for facilitating interagency efforts—involving USDA, DOE, NASA, NSF, DOI, and FEMA—that are tracking storm damage and recovery in forests and the agricultural sector and supporting recovery and
The USDA Forest Service (USDA-FS) and the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub, headquartered in San Juan, Puerto Rico, began post-hurricane work within days of the storms, initiating research activities to aid in recovery efforts and develop lessons learned from the storm impacts and recovery that can inform future responses. Damage assessments of rural and urban forests are being conducted to obtain information on management and reforestation needs, including salvage opportunities for downed trees. To better understand how and why some landscapes are more vulnerable to hurricane damage than others, scientists are assessing how land characteristics such as topography affected vegetation damage. USDA is also evaluating the
In addition to direct effects on livelihoods, extreme events can degrade important
Preliminary evidence shows that five months after Hurricane Maria, more than half of the trees in Puerto Rican rainforests are damaged or were downed and 60% of protective coastal mangroves in Florida were destroyed. Some areas and species are recovering faster than others; for instance, palm trees in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest are taking advantage of sunlight provided by an open canopy. When fully analyzed, observations from this multi-agency effort will provide an unprecedented picture of the damage and initial recovery from these two events and help improve understanding of how hurricanes change forest ecosystems. Such assessments can inform planning for recovery and rehabilitation of affected lands and preparation for future events.
1 Ramsayer, Kate. “NASA mapping hurricane damage to Everglades, Puerto Rico forests.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-mapping-hurricane-damage-to-everglades-puerto-forests.
2 Reiny, Samson. “Five ways hurricanes have affected Puerto Rico’s forests.” National Aeronautics and Space Administration. https://blogs.nasa.gov/earthexpeditions/2018/05/23/five-ways-hurricanes-have-affected-puerto-ricos-forests/.