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What Happened in NYC and the Northeast?

Remnants of Ida took a toll.

Surprise! Ida was not just another bad rainstorm.

The definition of “remnant” is “a small remaining quantity of something.” Well Ida was not a small quantity of rain — that is for sure.

I can tell you exactly what happened that killed 44 people throughout the Northeast: Urban flooding brought on by rains from a tropical storm that engulfed the region. While there were sure to be rivers that flooded, in New York City it was plain old “urban flooding” where the concrete jungle’s drainage system can’t keep up with the rainfall.

The new governor of New York said that she wants to find out what went wrong and who is responsible.

There were plenty of warnings given by the National Weather Service, so you can’t blame them. I think it is an issue with “lifetime experience” of people who have not had to deal with that type of rainfall over a short period of time leading to urban flooding. You could even call it flash flooding if you like, which is normally attributed to rivers and streams.

People were not prepared mentally for that amount of rain. Their personal experience did not inform them about what the risks might be from driving through flooded streets and highways. I’m betting that “don’t drive through flood waters!” has not been a public information theme at all in the urban area of NYC.

What this storm did is call attention to climate change and the “climate adaptation” strategies that need to be implemented to protect people and property. It is one thing to talk about future climate impacts, but you only have to look across the United States to see drought and fires in the West. Meanwhile, there are hurricanes in the Gulf and Southeast and rain and flooding everywhere else.

We can stop talking about the “future impacts of climate change” and start dealing with the issue today. It is here and we are not ready!
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
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