Updated Aug 11, 2023, 9:37am EDT
net zeroNorth America

Devastating Maui fire shows threat of compounding climate events

A view of damage cause by wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, U.S. August 10, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Senator Brian Schatz via Instagram/via REUTERS
Sen. Brian Schatz via Instagram/via REUTERS

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The News

Fires which destroyed huge swaths of the Hawaiian island of Maui highlight the growing threat of compound climate risks, which happen when multiple extreme weather events converge.

The deadly blazes in Maui were intensified by nearby Hurricane Dora, and an ongoing drought on the island meant that dry grass became highly flammable.

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  • It’s difficult to predict exactly what could happen during compounding events because there’s double the uncertainty, said Flavio Lehner, an atmospheric scientist at Cornell University. But there is increasing research into compound climate events as scientists realize “that some of the most impactful extreme events are because of certain factors coming together at the right time, or at the wrong time.” — Heatmap
  • Climate change is expensive. Residents in U.S. states which are hardest hit by the climate crisis, like Florida and California, are effectively paying a climate tax due to climbing insurance rates, electricity bills, and health care costs. Economist Leah Fahy recently noted that many properties in the U.S. are overvalued, but “as these risks begin to manifest, housing markets will eventually adjust,” meaning property values will tumble. — Axios
  • Simultaneously occurring extreme weather events, like a heatwave and a drought, will affect global food security. Compound events in major crop-producing regions known was “breadbaskets” could lead to harvest failures, said Kai Kornhuber, senior scientist at Climate Analytics. “As a result, countries that rely heavily on crop imports could experience heightened food insecurity, as global scarcity could lead to price spikes and even result in national export bans,” Kornhuber said.— Carbon Brief