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Hurricanes: Science and Society
Mitigation and Preparation to Response and Recovery
Satellite view of Burma (Myanmar) before and after flooding from Cyclone Nargis.
NASA's Terra - MODIS satellite, in combination with visible and infrared light, captured images of the widespread flooding caused by Cyclone Nargis (2008). Water is blue or nearly black, vegetation is bright green, bare ground is tan, and clouds are white or light blue. On April 15 (top), rivers and lakes are sharply defined against a backdrop of vegetation and fallow agricultural land. The wetlands along the Mouths of the Irrawaddy are a deep blue green. Cyclone Nargis came ashore across the Mouths of the Irrawaddy and followed the coastline northeast. The entire coastal plain is flooded in the May 5 image (bottom). The fallow agricultural areas appear to have been hardest hit. For example, Yangôn (population over 4 million) is almost completely surrounded by floods. Muddy runoff colors the Gulf of Martaban turquoise.

Living with hurricanes is a fact of life for the billions of people who reside along the coast. Indeed, some of the world’s most deadly natural disasters have been tropical weather events including the Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970, which struck Bangledesh and killed as many as 500,000 people (primarily as a result of storm surge), and Cyclone Nargis, which made landfall in Myanmar in 2008, causing catastrophic destruction and at least 138,000 fatalities. In the U.S., the most deadly hurricane was the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 that killed more than 6,000 people.

Since tropical cyclones have ranked among the deadliest disasters of all time, much scientific research is being conducted regarding these tropical weather events. Scientific advances in understanding the behavior of hurricanes have dramatically improved the ability to prepare for hurricanes and protect homes and businesses when they do strike. Yet, despite this progress, millions of people still fail to adequately protect their homes against hurricanes, putting themselves and their family at serious risk. Social scientists and policy makers are now looking at using classroom education more aggressively to teach the importance of hurricane preparedness and mitigation.