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Fifth National Climate Assessment - Read the Report

Learning from climate disasters


Dr. Nora Álvarez Berrios of the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub assessing hurricane-downed tropical hardwoods. Salvage of post-hurricane trees is a time-sensitive process requiring special efforts in planning and capacity to connect resources to markets. Credit: Eva Holupchinski, USDA Caribbean Climate Hub.

Studies of vulnerability to hurricane impacts in agriculture and forestry support efforts to reduce risks from future storms.

Three storms in the 2017 hurricane season caused catastrophic damage to communities, livelihoods, and infrastructure in the U.S. Southeast and Caribbean, including billions of dollars in losses in the agriculture and forestry sector. Climate change and other stressors are expected to increase damages and disruptions from hurricanes in the future, driving research to improve understanding of sector-specific vulnerabilities to storms and how best to reduce the risks and costs from future hurricanes.1, 2

Scientists at the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry have been investigating aspects of the 2017 hurricanes that affected Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the southeastern United States. Studies have included geospatial analyses of hurricane effects and surveys and interviews across a broad spectrum of people and agencies involved in forestry and agriculture. A study released in 2020 based on surveys of land managers found that long-term planning for hurricane events is still uncommon compared to shorter-term preparedness and recovery activities.3 Other key findings include variability in social and ecological effects across sectors and geographies; an identification of the loss of power, water, and downed trees as key effects with cascading consequences; and a recognition of the importance of personal and organizational connectivity in effective planning, response, and recovery to hurricanes.

This work was accomplished with the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub and in collaboration with the USGS, USDA agencies, the National Weather Service, USDA Southeast Climate Hub, and several universities.


1 Gould, W.A., E.L. Díaz, (co-leads), N.L. Álvarez-Berríos, F. Aponte-González, W. Archibald, J.H. Bowden, L. Carrubba, W. Crespo, S.J. Fain, G. González, A. Goulbourne, E. Harmsen, E. Holupchinski, A.H. Khalyani, J. Kossin, A.J. Leinberger, V.I. Marrero-Santiago, O. Martínez-Sánchez, K. McGinley, P. Méndez-Lázaro, J. Morell, M.M. Oyola, I.K. Parés-Ramos, R. Pulwarty, W.V. Sweet, A. Terando, and S. Torres-González, 2018: U.S. Caribbean. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 809–871. https://doi.org/10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH20

2 Carter, L., A. Terando, K. Dow, K. Hiers, K.E. Kunkel, A. Lascurain, D. Marcy, M. Osland, and P. Schramm, 2018: Southeast. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 743–808. https://doi.org/10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH19

3 Wiener, Sarah S.; Álvarez-Berríos, Nora L.; Lindsey, Angela B. 2020. Opportunities and challenges for hurricane resilience on agricultural and forest land in the US, Southeast and Caribbean. Sustainability, 12, 1364.