by Jack Clarke and Christina Wiseman
We’ve been keeping the victims and everyone still reeling from the impacts of the hurricanes that battered Texas, the Southeastern US, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in our thoughts. The past few weeks’ events are also a reminder that as a coastal state, Massachusetts is at risk of flooding both from extreme storms and sea level rise. Mayor Marty Walsh recently said in an interview that “If we got hit with a storm like this, if Harvey hit Boston Harbor, we’re wiped out as a city.” We need to take time to learn how we as a state and nation can be better prepared for the climate change-induced impacts of super storms.
The unusual strength of recent storms such as Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria are most likely tied to our warming climate. Higher sea levels, along with warmer ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic where these storms formed, helped to intensify these hurricanes by increasing wind speed and by allowing the air to hold more water which eventually fell as rain. Learn more about the latest science on the links between climate change and hurricanes here.
How we develop land can affect the impacts we see from extreme weather events. In the case of the Houston, many areas that were once covered in prairie grass – which naturally absorbed stormwater – have been paved over. Now when rain falls on the impervious paved surfaces, it becomes runoff that can flood homes and roadways. Affordable and effective alternatives such as Low Impact Development work with nature rather than against it, incorporating features like rain gardens to soak up stormwater and pollution.
Mass Audubon’s climate change adaptation legislation would be a first step in making sure we’re ready for future storms by requiring the state to work with cities and towns to identify and prepare for the impacts of climate change. It’s going to take a combination of local, state, and federal-level actions to prepare for and respond to extreme weather events, which are only expected to increase in the future. Making the right decisions now can help avert some of the worst impacts of these disasters.