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One Thing: How Hurricane Ian Got So Strong, So Quickly
CNN 5 Things
Oct 2, 2022

Residents of southwest Florida are cleaning up after Hurricane Ian slammed into the coast as a deadly Category 4 storm last week, causing catastrophic damage and widespread flooding before later making landfall again South Carolina. We look at what role climate change may have played in the storm’s ferocity and how some cities are reconsidering how to rebuild with that in mind. 

Guest: Bill Weir, CNN Chief Climate Correspondent

Episode Transcript
Detective James Smith
00:00:03
Hello. How are you today? Good. Hey, we're coming by and letting everybody know that you're in a mandatory evacuation situation. You're aware of that?
David Rind (host)
00:00:12
This is Detective James Smith. He's with the Tampa police. And last Tuesday, a CNN team followed him as he went door to door, letting residents know this was their last chance to get out of town ahead of Hurricane Ian.
Detective James Smith
00:00:28
Where are you heading to?
Resident
00:00:29
Oh, we're going to our. My wife's nieces.
Detective James Smith
00:00:31
Okay, good. Yeah. All right.
Resident
00:00:33
We got a house and everything.
David Rind (host)
00:00:34
At this point, the storm was well offshore, but it was packing some serious winds - 115 miles an hour at the max, which is a Category three. Even so, I was struck by how calm these interactions in Tampa were. I guess Floridians are used to this kind of thing to some extent. Well, within hours, Hurricane Ian's max sustained winds jumped to 155 miles an hour. That's just shy of a Category five. And then southwest Florida really started to feel it.
John Berman
00:01:10
We do have breaking news. Hurricane Ian has now officially made landfall. 3:05 p.m. as a category four storm.
Randi Kaye
00:01:20
Here and there were pieces of metal flying through the air at stop signs and pieces of palm trees.
Resident
00:01:26
So everything was fine. And then all of a sudden our house flooded. It just started going deeper and deeper.
David Rind (host)
00:01:34
Florida's governor called this a 500 year flood event. Federal data suggests some areas saw one in a thousand year rainfall. It's hard to overstate just how big a deal this was. So this week, we're going to go to Florida, where CNN's chief climate correspondent Bill Weir experienced Ian up close and personal. From CNN, this is One Thing I'm David Rind.
David Rind (host)
00:02:05
Bill where are you right now?
Bill Weir
00:02:07
I'm in Punta Gorda, Florida, where we rode out the storm. And thankfully to the kind folks at the one hotel here with generator power going, it took us in for the night. So I have it better than most between reporting assignments.
David Rind (host)
00:02:23
All right. And so the listeners know we're talking on Friday. And as we speak, the storm has killed more than 20 people. But unfortunately, that number is almost surely going to rise in the days ahead. And the storm itself isn't even done. It's bearing down on South Carolina right now. But I wonder, Bill, if we can start with this. I imagine the majority of our listeners have never directly experienced a hurricane for themselves. Like, can you explain what it felt like as Ian arrived in Florida?
Bill Weir
00:02:50
It builds.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:02:54
Okay, here it comes.
Bill Weir
00:02:56
And it gets more ominous and the wind speeds pick up steadily.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:03:01
Whoa. There's a big one.
Bill Weir
00:03:04
Until the point where you realize I can't walk in this anymore.
Bill Weir
00:03:13
The sound This just freight train swooshing noise like. And the whole world is angry at you.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:03:21
So just a few minutes ago, we literally had four people holding this door against these winds.
Bill Weir
00:03:27
And it's really humbling to see the power of nature in those moments and can be exhilarating, can be terrifying, depending on your experiences and your personality. But it is a one of a kind, sort of experience.
David Rind (host)
00:03:45
Hmm. So after the storm comes through in the light of day, what kind of damage are we talking about in parts of southwest Florida? What have you been seeing?
Bill Weir
00:03:54
Oh, it's it's apocalyptic in places. Just people's lives scattered over the landscapes and in the canals. Sunken yachts of all sizes, jumbled on top of houses. You know, like after your kids bath time, just everything is everywhere. And you find a few folks who've either stayed or have come back in somehow to these barrier islands, and they're just sort of dazed walking around. How do you start cleaning up your yard when your whole life is in your yard?
Resident
00:04:26
Laura is the homeowner.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:04:28
Hello, Laura.
Laura
00:04:29
Hi nice to meet you.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:04:29
Nice to meet you I'm so sorry.
Bill Weir
00:04:31
I met this woman who she actually is from New Jersey. And this is her winter home in this little trailer park. And she is a shell collector. And Sanibel Island is one of the meccas for shell collectors around the world. And this woman had been coming there her whole life and her dream was to be as close to Sanibel as she could. And so she bought a mobile home with her family, and she came wading in and she had this very light spirit about her.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:05:01
How long have you had a place here?
Laura
00:05:03
A year.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:05:04
Oh, no.
Laura
00:05:05
Yes. Oh, yeah.
Bill Weir
00:05:07
And we went up and I asked her as we're going up and like, are you hopeful that you can save this? We came around the corner and she sees it for the first time.
Laura
00:05:14
Looks pretty good.
Bill Weir
00:05:16
And there is, you know, again, water up to the bottom windowsill. And she said, well, the carport is the only thing that looks damaged. It looks good. Like she was clinging to hope that this could be cleaned up.
Laura
00:05:28
It looks better than I ever hope. How's that? No way.
Bill Weir
00:05:32
And I had already been through the neighborhood. I knew that wasn't the case. But what I've seen is sort of the five stages of grief that people cycle through in these storms, right. Which is denial at first. And then anger and then bargaining and then depression and acceptance at the end. And she sure cycled through those phases in front of me. She didn't get angry and she didn't really try to bargain about things.
Laura
00:05:57
It's absolutely amazing what that water does.
Bill Weir
00:06:01
But we went from her hoping that she could rebuild to resigned to the fact that it was a total loss within about 15 minutes.
Laura
00:06:10
Well, let's say it's done. What do you think? Done?
Bill Weir (in field)
00:06:14
I think so. I hate to say... I know you were so hopeful for.
Laura
00:06:22
Well, there's people worse off than us. All those people out there and for all those people that don't have a second home to go to.
Bill Weir
00:06:35
But this place is a complete write off. And inside you see the amazing, fickle nature of these storms, the power of physics in these storms. Her television cabinets had been swept into the kitchen and put up on the sink, but the television that was on that cabinet was in the same spot, perfectly upright as if movers had set it there.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:06:55
Just describe what you're stepping in here.
Laura
00:06:57
It's just like muck...
Bill Weir
00:07:00
It could be the most expensive storm in the history of the United States.
David Rind (host)
00:07:04
Wow. Yeah. And you mentioned Sanibel, and we've seen these images of the causeway leading up to this this strip of islands out there completely washed away. So who is responsible for going out there, rescuing people, seeing if everyone's okay and how are they going about that?
Bill Weir
00:07:20
Well, it's sort of all hands on deck for those who have the means. We've got the Coast Guard and the Florida Air National Guards and Army out there and Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. Those barrier islands, the bridges are out. The causeway bridge to Sanibel to the bridge to Pine Island are both out. And then you have these volunteers. And I actually hitched a ride with the Cajun Navy, which, you know, is a group of bass fishermen and duck hunters from the bayous, Louisiana, who first started showing up at Katrina with their boats, helping people out of their flooded homes, and then Project Dynamo, led by a former military intelligence officer.
Project Dynamo
00:08:01
When Americans are in trouble in bad spots, sually we do. war zones in conflict zones. But Hurricane Ian qualifies.
Bill Weir
00:08:08
Who named his his project after Churchill's mission to get soldiers off the beach at Dunkirk with the help of civilians. And so, you know, these volunteers in their boats going out there trying to just save Americans.
Project Dynamo
00:08:20
People in need of help.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:08:23
You need help?
Project Dynamo
00:08:24
You want to get out of here?
Resident
00:08:30
I'm in the bedroom.
Project Dynamo
00:08:30
We'll come back.
Bill Weir
00:08:32
You know, we went to sea try to rescue people. One gentleman called out to our boat as we were passing by on Sanibel Island. Who was he was eager to take that boat lift, but his wife wasn't ready to leave.
Resident
00:08:43
You go. We're going.
Resident's wife
00:08:45
To where?
Project Dynamo
00:08:46
Fort Myers. The bridge is out. The bridge is knocked out.
Resident's wife
00:08:50
I'm not. I'm not ready to go.
Bill Weir
00:08:56
The guys we were with said, look, we see that a lot. People are in shock. They rode out the storm. They prayed their way through it. They survived. They feel pretty good about it. They don't understand the devastation around them and that their neighborhood is not livable for you know, won't be for months. And so they have to process through those five stages.
David Rind (host)
00:09:25
So, Bill, you're our Chief Climate Correspondent. So I think we got to talk about climate change and the role is playing in these storms. For Ian specifically, I was so struck by how fast the storm intensified up to near category five in a matter of just hours. So how did this storm get so big so fast?
Bill Weir
00:09:43
Well, warm water is food to a hurricane. It's steroids to a hurricane. And you know, the oceans on this planet, because of the heat trapping gases that now surround us in the atmosphere, the oceans absorb as much extra heat every second of every day as five Hiroshima sized atomic bombs. And so that water is just getting hotter and hotter. And so we don't I think the science now is we're not seeing more hurricanes, but the ones we are seeing are bigger. They get stronger, faster. That's that intensification piece. They get wetter. We've already seen some attribution science that say that Ian was 10% wetter than it would have been without manmade climate change.
David Rind (host)
00:10:32
Wow.
Bill Weir
00:10:32
And so what does that means in terms of property, in terms of life, in terms of injury, in terms of post-traumatic stress, that extra 10%. And this is the new normal, unfortunately. And so then we have to sort of cycle through those five stages of grief to realize if this is our new normal and we have to say goodbye to the to the earth we grew up on, that I grew up on and brace for the future. The closer we can get to acceptance, that's where the healing begins. You know, Punta Gorda, where I rode out the storm after they got ravaged by Charley, this became the first city in the state of Florida to adopt a climate resiliency plan. They hardened their building codes. They they moved their emergency operations center because the roof got ripped off during Charley. They buy up low lying, flood prone properties and turn them into public spaces. So you're not constantly rebuilding. But this is going to be all the difference going forward are the communities that that have reached and accepted that this is this is not a one off, that Ian are just some physical act of God. But.
David Rind (host)
00:11:38
Right that's my question, though, because it seems like a lot of these communities have not accepted that reality and they keep rebuilding storm after storm and more people keep moving in. What is it going to take to really get folks to change the way that the period after these storms is handled?
Bill Weir
00:11:55
That's the multitrillion dollar question, David. I mean, it it it really this is about this is less about physics and nature and it's more about human nature. After you've been punched in the nose with your entire neighborhood, it's human nature to to band together that I see this again and again where whether it's 911 or a hurricane man, people rally, you know, it becomes a bipartisan if you're just pure human, we're Americans in this together hashtag, we will rebuild, you know.
David Rind (host)
00:12:28
Stronger than the storm.
Bill Weir
00:12:29
Stronger than the storm. Absolutely. But again, the unfairness of this whole climate crisis is that the people who can't afford it can insulate themselves from the effects of this. Right. And we're seeing Hawaii has lost so many of its beaches because private homeowners have built seawalls that erode the natural ecosystems of these islands. Right. And in places like Canada and other countries, they've gone into these places and said, look, we're not going to keep rebuilding your house. You can't live here anymore. And that is it. Tough job. Who wants that job? And how do you run for political office on that platform that we have to not have 900 people a day move to Florida, but which probably should have 900 people leave a day.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:13:19
Does this change how you feel about living down here?
Laura
00:13:22
No, no, no.
Bill Weir (in field)
00:13:24
That's not enough , Ian's not enough to scared away from your beloved Sanibel.
Laura
00:13:31
No.
Bill Weir
00:13:33
And so, again, the woman who we met on Sanibel who refused to leave. You understand that? That's their dream home. They live in paradise. They work their whole lives to be on Sanibel Island. And the thought that that is somehow unlivable or you won't rebuild, that's just last for me. So this is the big challenge of how we how we sort this out and which dominoes fall first. I think financially it'll it'll be the insurance markets that drive this a lot. We're always seeing a massive insurance crisis in Louisiana and Florida as these small insurers go out of business. In May, the Florida legislature emergency, an emergency session threw $2 billion into a reinsurance fund. So the small insurance companies that are failing have a backstop. But at a certain point, how many times do you rebuild a house that's been blown down and, you know, is going to keep blowing down in more and more violent storms? It is the most difficult question.
David Rind (host)
00:14:35
Right. It would take a massive, massive paradigm shift for sure. Bill Weir there in Punta Gorda, thanks so much.
Bill Weir
00:14:42
Thanks, David.
David Rind (host)
00:14:51
One thing is a production of CNN audio. This episode was produced by Paola Ortiz and me, David Rind. Matt Dempsey is our production manager, our senior producer is Faiz Jamil and Greg Peppers is our supervising producer. And thanks as always for listening. A lot more on the storm over at CNN.com. And if you like this show, leave us a rating and a review wherever you listen. It really does help us out. We'll be back next Sunday. I'll talk to you then.