Explorers benefit from unpredictable storms


I’m in a hurricane. Or a tornado. Or a typhoon. I’m so far off the map I don’t even know what kind of storm it is. Dangerous stuff has been whirling about me. I’m not quite sure if my expedition is going to make it. There is turmoil. Then there is quiet. If it was a tornado, it’s over. But I think it’s a hurricane. If this is the calm eye of the storm, then I’m bracing myself for the next onslaught of destruction.

Either way, the storm will pass. If I survive, I’ll be able to survey the damage.

A few years ago I studied extreme weather conditions while my son Philip was living in Oklahoma, in tornado alley. During some months of the year it seemed like tornadoes were a weekly, if not daily, occurrence for him.

As an Explorer, one of the questions on my mind was, “Could a storm like a hurricane or a tornado be of any benefit?” On the surface the answer is no. Lots of things get destroyed: property, homes, lives. But strangely enough there are some important benefits.

Orrin H. Pilkey, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology at the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University, noted that “Barrier islands need hurricanes for their survival, especially at times of rising sea levels such as now. It’s during hurricanes that islands get higher and wider. From a purely natural standpoint hurricanes are a blessing for islands, even though they’re a curse for people who live there.”

So one benefit is that these storms allow for old vegetation to be taken out making way for the growth of new vegetation.

Another benefit is that in weather systems overall— in the macro view— hurricanes and tornadoes help maintain a relative equilibrium in the atmosphere. For instance hurricanes take water from the oceans and seas and bring it to inland areas.

A third benefit, for societies in particular, is that extreme weather brings people together, breaking down barriers that once existed. An amazing example of this is Banda Aceh Indonesia, after the Tsunami of 2004. I was on the staff of a Geneva Global at the time, a grant making organization helping charities around the world. We found areas of new cooperation and working together that built connections that continue to benefit that region today. By working together, people seek any means possible to heal, to recover and to thrive again.


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