Harvey's flooding offers lessons for protecting NC coast
The News & Observer
Friday, September 8, 2017
The tragic flooding of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston has communities all over the United States studying their own flood plans, and that’s one, perhaps the only, positive outcome of this horrendous event. (It should be noted that the Red Cross and other charitable organizations, along with churches, are mustering support for Houston’s victims. Those interested in helping should contact such organizations.)
In Raleigh, floodplain administrator Ben Brown is among those studying what happened in Houston to see if more regulation is needed and what can be learned from Houston’s experience. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime event,” he said, “what’s happening in Houston right now. Fifty inches of rain in 24 hours or so — that’s very scary.” As a News & Observer report noted, Raleigh’s a much different place than Houston: more hilly, and the city has good rules on land use. But beyond that, Raleigh officials know where the potential trouble spots are and have worked with federal emergency officials to learn what to do in an emergency.
But climate change — no matter what “deniers” say there is climate change in the view of the world’s most esteemed scientists — has itself changed the way communities are planning or at least training people to cope with emergencies.
And then there’s the coast. Here, the worry is considerable, as rising sea levels are a scientific fact and the consequences undeniable — unless someone comes up with a way to stem the ocean’s tide, which is unlikely.
Consider a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group that was founded almost 50 years ago by faculty and students at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The report is titled, “When Rising Seas Hit Home: Hard Choices Ahead for Hundreds of U.S. Coastal Communities.” And it says that perhaps 20 such communities along North Carolina’s coast could be impacted by rising tides in the next 15 years. That’s right. Not a century. Not 50 years. In the next 15 years.
That means those communities could be underwater.
The data in the report factors in three possible scenarios about sea level, from the most optimistic to the least, and bases expectations on carbon emissions that are predicted through the end of the 21st century.
Deniers wouldn’t believe such a report if they were standing in Asheville with saltwater running between their toes, but for most North Carolinians this is a matter of no small concern, and not just because hundreds of thousands of residents depend upon the coast for their livelihoods, not to mention valuing the coast for its wonder and beauty.
If Hurricane Harvey awakens state leaders in all vulnerable states to the need to do more to stem carbon emissions and their consequences, then some positive things can come. In the meantime, the priority is for all people to do all they can to help their fellow Americans in Texas.