Our view: Get used to massive storms

Posted

Editor's note: This editorial was updated on Sept. 7, 2017 at 4:19 p.m. to reflect a correction Hurricane Katrina was in 2005.

Six years ago today, Vermont was still reeling from flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene at the tail end of August. At least three people died as a result of the storm. Many lost their homes or came close to doing so. Recovery efforts would take years, and even today some bills are still being paid off.

The last time Vermont saw such a storm was in 1938. Hopefully Irene will remain a once in a (approximately) 100 years event, but as we saw at the start of this past July, when a rainstorm swamped much of neighboring Hoosick Falls, N.Y. and overwhelmed Bennington's Wastewater Treatment Facility, we're still vulnerable to flooding.

Of course, a far larger reminder of Irene is far to the south of us, in Texas, where residents of Houston and the surrounding area are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. The storm caused unprecedented levels of flooding there, and like Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Sandy (2012) the damage and costs are immense and will take years to set right.

Right now, Hurricane Irma, currently a powerful Category 5 storm, is on track to hit the Caribbean Islands. It's too early to tell what Irma will do, but people in Florida aren't waiting to find out. Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency and his constituents are preparing for the worst, stocking up on food and water just in case.

Hopefully, Irma will blow back out to sea before causing much damage. While there's no good time for a hurricane disaster, the United States certainly does not need to be hit by two major storms in the span of two weeks.

What we need and what we get may be two different things. For a long time, scientists have been warning us that climate change will lead to more frequent, more powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic. Since, for the moment, we appear to be a nation of science-deniers led by a president who maintains that climate change is all a Chinese hoax, it's probably best that we become accustomed to dealing with massive storms like these. Residents of coastal cities should become well-versed in evacuations, city planners will have to account for regular, large-scale flooding, and Congress should probably get used to passing relief packages in the billions of dollars.

What does all this mean for us in the northeast? As Irene showed us, we're not untouchable. Our "100 year floods" may become more frequent. More money will have to spend on clean-up and flood prevention. Following each disaster, science-deniers will tell us not to politicize the situation. Meaning, don't learn, don't change course.

We're resilient, we'll adapt to the new normal, it's just a shame that we have to do so when, but for pig-headed politics, we didn't have to.


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