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FEMA has failed to incorporate climate change impacts into their Risk MAP program, flood maps, and other disaster planning systems. While continuously criticized for having outdated Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), the maps are what FEMA officials currently use to rank the likelihood of a household flooding.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois issued the following statement - “We can no longer afford to ignore climate change’s role in magnifying the damage of storms and their staggering cost to taxpayers as we plan for future disasters. Experts have noted that the flood waters of Hurricane Florence could be half a foot higher due to rising sea levels caused by climate change while other research points to its capacity to amplify the power of the storms themselves…As millions of Americans confront Hurricane Florence and its aftermath, Congress will soon likely vote on supplemental relief to help rebuild in the wake of the more than $18 billion in damage caused by the storm. The failure of FEMA and other federal agencies to properly account for the effect of climate change in preparing for hurricane season will only increase the enormous costs to taxpayers and families in the path of the next storm.” Congressman Krishnamoorthi doesn’t represent a coastal community, but he has his head in the right place advocating for change. But FEMA’s maps are not not the only thing that needs changing…
What some homeowners may need to accept, is that homes were built in places that never should have been developed. These are flood plains that the earth ‘designed’ to direct the flow of high flood waters. The problem is real estate developers simply don’t care about the risk YOU assume when they sell you a property. Many of these properties have flooded multiple (5x or more) times, called severe repetitive buyouts. Congress is aware this is an issue and should address it in their NFIP reforms which could come by the end of November, but likely not. A repetitive loss buyout program that maintains property in perpetuity as open space is being looked at by the GAO.
Recall that Florence began as all storms do, an area of low pressure, that grew substantially into a Category 5 on the Saffir Simpson Wind Scale. Then, as it approached the east coast, it encountered shearing winds that downgraded the storm to a Category 2 before making landfall as ‘just a Category 1.’ The Saffir Simpson Wind Scale is based entirely on wind speed, which during Florence was not a primary issue. In fact, due to the downgrade of the storm, many more residents decided not to evacuate. This decision proved wrong when the floodwaters came from the catastrophic rainfall that occurred from such a giant Category 1 storm. In a previous WaterLog, I discussed how the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) models do not accurately represent the severity of a storm, particularly storm surge, rainfall, flooding, etc. – factors that are tied more to the local landscapes and geophysical features such as barrier islands, valleys and rivers in the path of the storm. This is going to require change in the future as the devastation from storms can come from wind, rain, or storm surge individually, let alone when combined. This will require the NHC to devise a new method for forecasting storm intensity based on a number of data points. The current beauty of the scale is that it is easy to understand. Hurricane Sandy barely had hurricane force winds when it struck and yet caused the second costliest storm on record. There was a report by the Congressional Research Service on the issue – click here to read it. It’d be best for Congress to hold a hearing with weather experts to determine how the leadership at NHC should approach modifying their forecasting procedures to properly inform residents of their risk.
While reporters and analysts seek out statistics about flood insurance policy holders in North Carolina, let’s just say the numbers are not looking good.
The Senate committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing September 26th, at 10AM titled, “Cleaning Up the Oceans: How to Reduce the Impact of Man-Made Trash on the Environment, Wildlife, and Human Health?” There is simply too much trash in the ocean. With more plastic than fish expected to occupy our oceans by 2050, it’s time to make a change.