Hurricane Matthew tore through the Caribbean, leaving destruction and pestilence in its wake. Over 1,000 people are dead in Haiti, and thousands are homeless after the strong category four storm slammed into the west of the country. It also hit the eastern tip of Cuba, causing some damage there, but that pales in comparison to Haiti. The Bahamas was also hit quite hard, with property damages that will no doubt tally in the $10s of millions. The economic losses for tourism alone is an estimated are $1.8 million. Matthew pick up strength before the outer bands made landfall in the US, slamming central and northern Florida and all the way up the coast to North Carolina. In Florida, four deaths are blamed on the storm. It likely would have been substantially worse if it were a direct hit, but the storm stayed about 40 miles (65km) out to sea. However, the bands and the storm surge still resulted in the deaths as mentioned earlier, along with serious flooding, and power loss for about a million people.
The one positive effect Hurricane Matthew had was bringing much needed rain to New Jersey. Fourteen counties in New Jersey are experiencing drought or under drought warning, but the more coastal regions of New Jersey received a lot of rain due to the remnants of Matthew. Many reservoirs are at least 25% less full than they should be. Overall, two-thirds of the state’s counties are facing a warning. When a drought warning is issued, residents are asked to take voluntary conservation measures, but such measures often don’t work. There is a well know parable in economics called The Tragedy of The Commons. In the story, what happens is that a group of villagers destroy a common grazing area for their sheep despite agreeing on limits to grazing that will certainly keep the area thriving. Each villager thinks that their slight excess usage will be fine because the other villagers are restricting their grazing. Unfortunately, when we change what needs to be changed to apply to drought, this situation plays out all too often. The reservoirs are at unusually low levels, and they will likely get worse soon.
Meanwhile, northwestern Georgia and Alabama are deep in drought, and it is only getting worse. The drought is killing crops and causing cattle fire sales. In fact, the drought levels there are record-breaking. Parts of northwestern Georgia and Alabama already have the driest 60 days on record, and are close to having the most days without rainfall they have ever had. The drought they are dealing with now is a one in a hundred year event. We can see the worst case scenario for drought by looking at Madagascar. The drought there is so astonishingly bad that it is causing a grave humanitarian crisis, with 850,000 people unable to find food. While it will not get this bad in New Jersey, which needs weeks of sustained above normal rainfall levels to stave off the drought, the situation could be very costly, as it is in California, where the drought toll exceeded $2.7 billion.