Commentary

Editorials: NC got lucky on Irma, but more are coming

Hurricane Irma is finally spinning itself into a tropical depression today and none too soon. Sadly, Irma’s demise comes after several days of horrific destruction in the Caribbean and parts of Florida and Georgia.

But, of course, it could have been much worse. A lucky break in timing and wind patterns spared Florida’s Tampa Bay from much of the storm surge that had been feared. Meanwhile, North Carolina is largely escaping the storms’ fury.

Here’s the thing though: We all know that in the age of climate change more super storms are coming. As this morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer puts it:

“While Hurricanes Irma and Harvey did not deliver a major blow to North Carolina, they did deliver a major warning. Hurricanes fueled by warmer air and ocean temperatures are getting more intense, and rising sea levels increase the level of flooding from sea water.

North Carolina, with its long coast jutting into a frequent hurricane path and its wide, low-lying coastal plain, is especially vulnerable to hurricanes and inland flooding. Now that vulnerability is rising with climate change, but preparations are not keeping pace….

On the side of getting ready, North Carolina is falling behind. Despite warnings about climate change and sea-level rise, the issue has not become urgent. Coastal development continues in harm’s way, water and sewer systems are too easily overwhelmed and river flooding needs to be better controlled.

The Republican-led General Assembly has focused on reducing environmental regulations, including putting limits on riparian buffers, or strips of vegetation, along streams and rivers. The buffers help control stormwater runoff and filter the pollution carried into waterways. Meanwhile, more resources should be devoted to inspecting and strengthening the more than 5,600 small dams in the state that are categorized as high-hazard because a break could lead to deaths or property damage of more than $250,000.”

In other words, this is no time to put our heads in the sand. Rather, it’s an “all hands on deck” situation. North Carolina needs to move aggressively to lower its contributions to global warming and overhaul the way it regulates land, water and development in order to make our infrastructure more resilient and better insulate the population from the next superstorm.
As an editorial in this morning’s Wilmington Star-News rightfully observes:

“Unless more reports of damage and injuries emerge, Floridians probably will count themselves lucky. Considering the strength and size of Irma, the thousands that evacuated risky areas did the right thing.

Luck, of course, is not always on our side. That’s why we need to make sure that preparedness, reasonable caution and well-informed long-term efforts to mitigate hurricane damage are.”

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