Ida Floods Northeast, Yes This Is The Climate Emergency
The Northeast yesterday was hit by heavy rainfall and flooding as the leftovers from Hurricane Ida blew across the country from the Gulf coast to New England, causing at least nine deaths and widespread property damage in the New York and New Jersey region. CBS News offers this thumbnail portrait of the New Normal:
New York's Central Park got 3.15 inches of rain between 8:51 p.m. and 9:51 p.m., breaking a mark set in the early 1900s for the most ever for an hour in the city, according to CBS News weather producer David Parkinson.
The torrential downpours prompted the National Weather Service's New York office to issue it first-ever Flash Flood Emergency for parts of the city — Manhattan, Brooklyn and the borough of Queens. That followed the first such emergency the office ever declared, for New Jersey. The weather service also issued one for parts of Connecticut as the front end of the system moved into New England, pointing to 6 to 10 inches of rainfall "falling over a several hour period."
The FAA grounded all traffic at New York's three major airports, and New York City shut down most of its subway system. Tornados were reported in Maryland and New Jersey. And there were power outages in some areas, though nothing like the complete power grid failure in New Orleans when Ida first hit (electricity is slowly being restored in parts of Louisiana, though it's mostly still out.)
Earther reporter Molly Taft offered this reminder for everyone who was able to get online and see videos of flooded New York streets:
hi it's me your local climate change reporter logging on to tell you that this grief and despair and fear is uhhh something you gotta figure out how to live with from now on, sorry— molly taft (@molly taft) 1630584733
hi it's me your local climate change reporter logging on to tell you that this grief and despair and fear is uhhh something you gotta figure out how to live with from now on, sorry
Gosh, if only we'd had some warning this might happen.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared states of emergency, as did New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; that will help get disaster funding moving more quickly. In Passaic, New Jersey, Deputy Chief of Police Louis Gentile warned drivers not to assume their SUVs are indestructible all-terrain vehicles, please, saying, "We have fire trucks stuck, we have ambulances stuck, we have people that are still stuck and not getting out of the water. [...] It's very serious."
In New York, at least eight people were killed by flooding, including a two-year-old boy who was found along with two adults in a home in Flushing, Queens. Two people in Jamaica, Queens, were killed when a wall in their home fell because of the flood waters.
Nine homes were destroyed by a tornado that touched down in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, NBC News Philadelphia reports; first responders who searched the wreckage didn't find anyone dead or injured. One firefighter said, "Every house we've checked, they're safe," so that's a relief.
In Pennsylvania, heavy rain caused flooding, and led to more people driving into flooded roads and needing to be rescued. Tens of thousands of people are without electricity. Five inches of rain fell by yesterday afternoon in Johnstown, leading to an evacuation order for people downstream of the Wilmore dam, which had dangerously high water levels. Cambria County emergency management director Art Martynuska said another nearby dam was being monitored, but that its water height had stabilized by late afternoon. Residents who evacuated were allowed to return home yesterday evening after the Wilmore dam's level receded. In 1889, a poorly maintained dam near Johnstown burst, sending a 40-foot-high surge of water through the town that killed more than 2,200 people and led to folk songs.
We also learned yesterday that when Ida hit Louisiana, it sent trees crashing down on the home and studio of actor John Schneider, who starred in "The Dukes of Hazzard" TV show. A tree felled by the winds crushed one of several "General Lee" cars used in the show and now owned by Schneider, although if you're a car person, you'll be glad to know it wasn't a real 1969 Dodge Charger, but one of several replicas built on the frames of surplus Crown Victoria police cruisers.
Schneider was not home at the time, having traveled to Tennessee to help with relief from a completely separate climate disaster, flash floods that hit middle Tennessee August 22. The area was drenched by 17 inches of rain, causing floods that killed at least 20 people and destroyed nearly 300 homes. At least that area didn't have additional flooding from Ida.
As the earth's climate warms, we should expect more extreme weather events. There may not be more hurricanes, but they're likely to become more powerful, both because hurricanes gain speed over warmer water, and warmer air can hold more moisture, causing heavier, more sustained rains.
Back in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Northeast with flooding and power outages and destruction, the Onion ran one of those headlines that felt instantly iconic: "Nation Suddenly Realizes This Just Going To Be A Thing That Happens From Now On."
It might not have become quite as much a part of the national sardonic reaction vocabulary as "''No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens," but 'tis enough, 'twill serve.
Get used to many more decades of videos of water rushing into subway stations and people walking through flooded urban landscapes, because that's where normal isn't just headed, it's already here.
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