hurricanes

Climate Change and the "cycle of disaster" in floodplains

When it comes to rebuilding after storms, some hard decisions need to be made:

Local officials desperate to restore normalcy to disoriented communities will get to decide how to spend those federal dollars — choices made more consequential, and costly, as sea levels rise and Atlantic storms generate greater surge and rainfall because of climate change.

“Human settlements have been designed in a way that reflects a climate of the past, and this increases the likelihood that disaster-related losses will continue to rise,” said Gavin Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who directs the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence, a research consortium funded by the Department of Homeland Security. “This also means we need to rethink how and where we build before the storm, as well as how and where we reconstruct public buildings and infrastructure in the aftermath of extreme events.”

First let me state upfront I do not live in an area prone to flooding, even during the worst of deluges. There are a few streams here and there in my community that are prone to overflow, but 15-20 minutes later everything's fine. And I know it's real easy for somebody like me to criticize those who do live in such areas, who resist being relocated. But emotional attachments have absolutely no influence on the science of hydrology, and if that science tells you you're living in the wrong place, you should probably listen closely:

Voting after Florence: Matthew problems on steroids

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The people who most need a new vision in NC government may lose their voice:

Hurricane Florence disrupted daily operations for local governments in North Carolina, including county boards of elections. It's the second time in two years that voting officials have had to improvise just weeks before a General Election. In Craven County, it's deja vu for Director of Elections Meloni Wray. She remembers when Hurricane Matthew hit her office in New Bern two years ago, less than a month before a major election. "The only difference is we didn't actually have our ballots here in-house," Wray said.

The state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement drafted this year's ballots later than usual because of multiple lawsuits against four of this year's six proposed constitutional amendments. It turns out that delay helped avoid what could have been a lot of soggy ballots.

That's kind of an up-beat assessment, but the reality is: If those absentee ballots had been mailed out prior to the storm, at least one leg of the journey would have been completed. As it stands now, post offices are closed, people have been displaced, and getting those absentee ballots into their hands in time is becoming somewhere between difficult and impossible. So early (out of precinct) voting is looking more and more like the only solution. But that means all those carefully-prepared and state-approved county voting plans won't be sufficient, for nearly a third of the state. Even if "scheduled" locations are operational by the time early voting begins, just getting to those places with all the road closures (1,100 right now) is going to be a challenge, to put it mildly. We need a new plan, stat.

Getting students back to school in Eastern NC a huge challenge

Even when schools reopen, you still have to get them there:

Bounds said school officials are eager to get students back to give them a dry, safe haven and a hot meal. While a couple of Scotland County's schools were without power or water this week, Bounds said the real limiting factor to restarting school is getting to students. Many roads in the area remain flooded or badly damaged.

Bounds said transportation will be the school's biggest challenge, forcing the school district to devise new bus schedules and bus routes. She said she expects that schools from her county all the way east to the coast are facing that same dilemma of how to reach students.

Even roads that appear to be just fine might be ticking time-bombs. From time to time we've seen part of a road collapse due to sinkholes and washouts, it happens several times a year across the state even without a monster storm like Florence. But roads have been collapsing (or on the verge of) in every county affected by the storm, even up in the Piedmont. But maybe even more dangerous for children than collapsing roads is the likelihood of persistent mold growth after their school has been reopened:

Challenges to mitigating flood damage in Lumber River area

When the levee breaks, we'll have no place to stay:

Robeson County’s “Resilient Redevelopment Plan,” conceived after Matthew, called for upgrades to the Lumber River levee and the construction of a floodgate where the levee opens for a railroad crossing. That would prevent what happened during the 2016 storm, when the river poured through the opening into largely low-income neighborhoods of south and west Lumberton. Hundreds of houses were damaged or destroyed.

But the construction of the floodgate requires coordinating with CSX, the freight company that owns the railroad track — or Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to force the issue by declaring eminent domain. Neither scenario has happened yet.

As you can see from the artist's rendering, this proposed floodgate would not only (temporarily) block off a road, but also a rail line. Which might seem a little crazy, until you consider that huge opening in the levee pretty much makes the levee itself almost useless. During Florence, National Guard troops tried to block it with sand bags, but that effort proved fruitless:

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