Could Florence be the East Coast Harvey?

Hurricane Florence image captured on September 10, 2018 from the International Space Station.

Image Credit: NASA

Batten down the hatches and pile your sandbags, Hurricane Florence has arrived.

As you can see from the image above, the sheer size of Florence reminds us of haunting images we saw of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria last year. But why do storms like these keeping popping up? Climate change plays a big part. Essentially, warmer water fuels the intensity of a storm. On average, the ocean’s temperature has risen 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit  since 1969 (NASA). Although that might not seem like a drastic rise, it is. Not only are marine ecosystems impacted by this temperature rise, hurricanes also have more opportunity to gain in strength and size.

On June 12th, we partnered with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Miami Climate Alliance, The New Tropic, and Radical Partners to host a briefing on the connection

between climate change and stronger hurricanes with Senior NASA Scientist Dr. Tim Hall. You can view the recording here.

Also in June, we released a video detailing the factors that made storms like Harvey so much worse. You can view the video here.

Now that Hurricane Florence has reached the coastal Southeastern United States, states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia are at a very high risk of flooding due to intense rainfall. James Kossin, atmospheric scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, explained to NPR that freshwater flooding is the biggest threat that residents in the area will face. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado also asserts that climate change greatly impact the size and intensity of storms like we saw last year and are seeing now. Bigger storms moving at a slower place are a recipe for disaster for coastal and even inland residents.

Learn more by clicking here.

Opening the Floodgates

With the amount of rain that Florence will bring to the East Coast, the potential for flooding is extremely high with most of the concern surrounding manure lagoons and coal-ash sites.

Time Magazine reported that “Duke Energy Corp. was ordered two years ago to clean up coal-ash ponds in North Carolina that posed risks to the environment and public health. The company won’t be done in time for the storm, leaving the sites vulnerable to spills that can unleash the waste. The state is also a major producer of poultry and hogs, and man-made lagoons that hold manure also could be at risk of overflowing into fields and nearby waterways.”

Even though the industry reports that the lagoons can hold up to 25 inches of rain, there is still a concern because Hurricane Florence may dump more than 40 inches of rain. If that happens, the lagoons will not be able to hold thus releasing toxic wet sludge into the surrounding area.

Learn more here.

Harvey v Florence 

Like Harvey, Florence has the potential to release an immense amount of water. Although there is a difference in the regional landscape. Because of the East Coast’s hilly terrain, it would not take much for a flash flood to devastate an area -- this makes Florence especially dangerous.

Experts anticipate that the now Category 1 storm will hover over North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and parts of Georgia for days, inundating residents with relentless rain and may bring a 15-20 foot storm surge. The Governors of the four states have declared a state of emergency for the area. President Donald Trump has also declared a state of emergency for the State of Virginia. Over 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the region.

It is entirely possible that destructive storms like Florence, Harvey, Irma, and Maria are the new norm.

On September 13th, Grist reporter and meteorologist Eric Holthaus joined MSNBC to explain the risks associated with Hurricane Florence: more rain, more flooding, bigger storm surge. Click here to view the full clip.

The Solution

It’s not a question of what we can do -- we already know that -- it’s a question of when we are going to do it. It’s no secret that if we adhered to the Paris Agreement we could restrict a global rise in temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius.

A smooth transition to clean, renewable energy is another way we could mitigate the current side effects of climate change and ensure we don’t continue to suffer in the future.

According to Sierra Club, these are the cities in Florida that have committed to renewable energy:

  • Largo, FL- Largo is committed to transitioning the community-wide energy supply to 100% renewable energy for all and the municipal energy supply to 100% renewable energy by 2040 -- 50% by 2035.
  • Orlando, FL- The city of Orlando is committed to 100% renewable energy by 2030 and community-wide 100% clean electricity by 2050.
  • Sarasota, FL- Sarasota  is committed to achieving 100% zero-emission, renewable electricity by 2045.

If the entire state of Florida joined California and Hawaii in a clean, renewable energy transition, Florida would become the third state to adopt the move toward clean toward. By doing so, Florida would have the opportunity to send a clear message  and by sharing our renewable achievements, we could inspire other states to follow.

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More Information 

For a live coverage of Hurricane Florence, click here.

For additional information on Hurricane Florence, click here.

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