By Tom Last
Last weekend many peninsula residents were busy rolling up wet rugs, putting wet furniture on the curb, and pumping water out of their basements. Also, musical and sporting events were cancelled over the weekend, as Rockaway residents cleaned up the mess caused by a record setting rainfall including 8.6 inches at JFK Airport, the most recorded in a single day according to the weather service. This rainfall also helped to make this the wettest September in 100 years.
In other parts of the city subways came to a halt, air traffic was grounded, and cars were submerged in water. The city’s Office of Emergency Management mentioned that our subway systems were designed long ago for a rainfall at a rate of 1.75 inches per hours, however, we are consistently getting more than that amount of rain. Fortunately, there were no storm related fatalities, but the cost of this storm is to be determined later but expected to be in the billions.
At a news conference on Saturday morning, Governor Kathy Hochul said, “I want to emphasize how serious this event was.” The governor added that climate change was making such extreme storms “a new normal.” Mayor Adams reflected on how we need to make major changes to our infrastructure including highways, subways, and sewer systems to deal with climate change related storms of the future.
We here in the Rockaways understand the vulnerabilities faced by coastal communities and how they are compounded by climate change. We are grateful for the investments the city has made after Hurricane Sandy to prevent coastal flooding like constructing floodwalls, berms, and levees, but not much has been done to manage extreme precipitation. Throughout the country our aging infrastructure is crumbling under the weight of climate change and much more needs to be done to build climate resistance in our communities.
The National Flood Insurance Program’s authorization will lapse on Oct. 1 unless Congress acts before then. The lapse will limit the program’s ability to pay out claims after a flood. The program will pay out claims from its reserves until it runs out of money, or Congress acts, according to the Congressional Research Service. Homeowners will stay tuned for upcoming Congressional news related to the National Flood Insurance Program and future local flood insurance rates.
How does climate change contribute to these extreme rainfalls? The planet continues to warm up due to human activity (e.g., the burning of fossil fuels). A warmer atmosphere can hold and deliver more moisture, which can make storms more intense. Unfortunately, our climate has changed for the worse and will continue to worsen. We need to act NOW to lessen the effects of climate change in the future.
What can you do to fight climate change? Educate yourself on how to combat climate change and become an environmentalist. As transportation is the single biggest source of emissions in most cities, it is important for us to drive less by using mass transit, walking, and biking more and using energy efficient cars (e.g., hybrids, EVs). Limiting food waste and buying less materials overall (e.g., avoid single use plastics) can help reduce your carbon footprint. Remember, there is no Planet B!