The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Expect extreme weather to become the norm
Highways are flooded. Schools are closed. Power is out. In just a few hours, parts of Connecticut saw more rain Wednesday night into Thursday morning than they typically see in a month.
The scenes that emerged as the storm receded were close to apocalyptic. Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans earlier this week, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated that city. Ida’s remnants then moved northeast, bringing along catastrophic flooding in Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City and into Connecticut.
This is climate change. Yes, there have always been storms, occasionally serious ones. But a hallmark of climate change, something that every model predicts, is that such storms will become more frequent and more serious as the planet warms. That’s why we have seen an increase in extreme weather events, whether it’s a hurricane dropping 50 inches of rain on Houston or the devastation of Puerto Rico in 2017 that left thousands of people dead.
We’re seeing the pattern in the Northeast, as well, whether it’s flooded streets in Stamford, overflowing rivers elsewhere in Connecticut or a record 7.19 inches of rain in one night in New York’s Central Park. The crisis is here, and it’s only going to get worse.
The time to take action was years ago, when this pattern first became clear. But we can’t go back in time; we can only deal with the situation we’re in. That means taking real steps to limit carbon emissions, and on that score, at least, Connecticut is making some progress with concrete goals and workable plans. But any answer will go far beyond state lines.
The other side of the story is mitigation. We know that storms like this are going to happen more frequently, so we need to be better prepared. That means spending money on infrastructure. It can be as complex as separating sewer systems into different channels for wastewater and storm runoff. It can be as simple as ensuring that drains aren’t blocked with debris when a storm is approaching.
There are reasons to believe mitigation can work. In New Orleans, a post-Katrina project to bolster that city’s levees cost some $14.5 billion over the past decade, but appears to have helped the city successfully survive a direct hit from a hurricane without being flooded. It didn’t keep the lights on, and the situation on the Gulf Coast remains serious days after the storm hit. But it was one indication that mitigation works, and that protections are necessary.
We’re going to need more of it, and in places we never before thought we’d need it. New Orleans has always been on the front lines for extreme weather, but now that designation applies almost anywhere, whether it’s inland Connecticut or the rivers of Tennessee, where pre-Ida floods killed dozens of people last month.
This state has taken steps in that direction, and Gov. Ned Lamont signed a law this year that moved local communities toward resilience and adaptation projects. But no one should be under the impression that it will be enough.
Devastating weather events are likely to be the story of the next generation. We can’t be too prepared.
The time to take action was years ago, when this pattern first became clear. But we can’t go back in time; we can only deal with the situation we’re in.