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Tree damage in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria linked to heavy rain

Science News had an interesting article this week. It was about a new study which showed that the biggest amount of tree damage in Hurricane Maria back in 2017 was not where the strongest winds were but where the rains were heaviest. Hurricane Irma, which passed near PR two weeks before Maria hit, brought heavy rain to the island, softening the soil and “priming the pump” for later devastation as Maria’s heavy rain combined with the strong winds toppled many trees over. According to the article, less flexible trees were more affected by the storm than flexible trees like palms, which have evolved to bend to strong winds better than other species.

This suggests that in future storm scenarios, we may need to pay more attention to antecedent rains and where the heaviest rains in an approaching hurricane may occur because that could be the focus of more destruction of forests. You can read the article here.

Plantain trees flattened by Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, P.R. In a matter of hours, the storm destroyed about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico, the territory’s agriculture secretary said. Credit Victor J. Blue for The New York Times