Matthew Was the Most Powerful Atlantic Hurricane in a Generation. Here’s What You Need to Know.

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It is hard to pull one’s eyes away from the images of Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. If one needed proof that we live in an indifferent universe, that broken land and its suffering people caught in a new, unfolding catastrophe should suffice.

But even as we watch disaster grip Haiti, reports are beginning to flow of a potential U.S. East Coast landfall and mandatory evacuations. Our coastal communities, while so well-resourced and resilient in comparison to Haiti, are still woefully unprepared for major storms.

Hurricanes are getting increasingly destructive

Through the fog of presidential politics that has enveloped the media, news of this storm is beginning to reach people and disrupt lives and plans. I for one was at the airport, ready to board a flight to Florida to participate in a climate conference, when I received the news that the conference was likely going to be canceled, and that I should not travel. This is how fast this storm developed.

Matthew turned from a tropical storm into a Category 5 hurricane in just 36 hours, mainly fueled by warmer than average waters. According to Climate Signals, as of October 3, Matthew was the longest-lived Category 4-5 hurricane and had generated the most Accumulated Cyclone Energy (orACE, a measurement that expresses the activity and destructive potential of individual tropical cyclones and entire tropical cyclone seasons) in the eastern Caribbean of any Atlantic hurricane on record.

More powerful hurricanes are not a surprise, given global warming and other factors, and recent research in this area suggests that hurricanes in the North Atlantic region have been intensifying over the past 40 years (learn more in this comprehensive review of hurricane trends and what influences them).

2016-10-12-10_07_41-gw-impacts-graph-hurricane-categories-3-4-5-over-time-jpg-840x385

Percent of Atlantic hurricanes each year from 1970 to 2012 that reached categories 3, 4, and 5. Annual data (light blue) and 5-year running average (dark blue). Graphic: Union of Concerned Scientists

Impacts of disasters fall disproportionately on the world’s poor and vulnerable communities

This is particularly true of disasters with climate connections.

Matthew may end up dumping as much as 40 inches of rain in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, whipping the country with sustained winds of 145 mph (the average annual rainfall in Port-au-Prince is 33.68 inches). Already reports are coming in of the devastation it is bringing to those nations.

Cuba is also in high alert, and a 10 to 15-foot storm surge is expected in the Bahamas, where theaverage elevation appears to be less than 15 feet.

The impacts from Matthew will be felt by wealthy and poor communities alike, but the latter usually are not well prepared and lack the resources to rebound and get back on their feet in a timely or comprehensive manner. And this is not true only of foreign nations: many communities along the US coast find themselves in the same situation.

Florida has a whole generation of people who have not witnessed a major hurricane

Such a powerful hurricane brings rain and storm surge that can be life-threatening, as we have already seen in Haiti. With each recent update, the track of the now Category 4 hurricane has moved farther west, and closer to the US East Coast.

Right now, Matthew is on track to skim very close to the Florida coast from late Thursday, October 6 through Friday, October 7. By Saturday, October 8, the storm will begin impacting Georgia and the Carolinas. In the Southeast, some evacuation orders have already been issued.

This is a gravely serious storm, the likes of which states like Florida have not seen in a generation.  Indeed, since Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, millions of people have taken up residence along the Florida coast.

Most of today’s East Coast residents have never experienced a hurricane of this magnitude and power, nor much considered the risks. And they now have a matter of hours to prepare.

Here I will focus on what we need to know to weather this storm.  In subsequent posts, we will address what can be learned in its aftermath.

Tracking Hurricane Matthew, The National Hurricane Center's forecast track, October 6, 2 p.m. ET

Tracking Hurricane Matthew, The National Hurricane Center’s forecast track, October 6, 2 p.m. ET

Preparedness is essential and must be taken seriously

A storm moving along the Atlantic can have a variety of impacts. Such a powerful hurricane brings rain and storm surge that can be life-threatening. For Matthew, the most up-to-date predictions are:

  • Storm surge will build as the hurricane approaches land and drives water ashore. Forecasts are still preliminary given the uncertainty of the precise storm track, but suggest that coastal areas in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas will see flooding greater than 1 foot and greater than 3 feet in some places. Check here for the latest updates and forecasts.
  • There is currently up to a 30 percent probability of 74 mph or higher surface winds in Florida, and winds of 50-60 mph with gusts up to 70-85 mph in North Carolina, with storm surge potentially as high as 4 feet.

For those beginning to wonder what this storm may mean for them, UCS has compiled a set of resources not only for the US but for the other affected nations:

In the US, September was National Preparedness Month and the administration took that opportunity to release four new actions to increase our nation’s resilience (Leveraging Data, National Security, Building Community Capacity, and Smart Cities Initiative).

Matthew reminds us, however, that we need to continue to talk about climate, and not only our country’s disaster policy shortcomings but also (and importantly) the impacts of on the world’s poor and vulnerable communities.

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Upcoming Forum – Flood Resiliency Resources: Protect your Community from Flooding and Reduce Insurance Rates through the Community Rating System

Hudson_river_from_bear_mountain_bridgeDate: Wednesday, September 21st, 2016 – Add to Calendar
Time: 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Location: Roosevelt Fire District Building (830 Violet Avenue, Hyde Park, NY) View Map

Certificates of attendance for municipal training credit will be provided.

This workshop will introduce communities to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Rating System (CRS) program, including:

  • the benefits of the program;
  • what the CRS entails;
  • how to tell if the CRS is a good fit for your community (through a baseline assessment);
  • how communities can enroll in the program and resources to help your community enroll; and
  • some of the flood adaptation and mitigation actions communities undertake as part of the program to increase resiliency to flooding within their communities.

Presentations will also include case studies from communities that are participating in the Community Rating System as part of their strategy to become more resilient to flooding and protect the health and safety of their community.

This workshop will also highlight the New York State Climate Smart Communities (CSC) Certification program and how actions communities can take to become certified within the CSC program can overlap with activities communities receive credit for under the Community Rating System, thus allowing communities to benefit from both programs.

Communities are saving tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and reducing their flood risk by participating in the Community Rating System (CRS), a program within the FEMA National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The CRS rewards communities that go beyond the minimum requirements of the NFIP, providing a discount on flood insurance premiums for a community based on their CRS class. The Community Rating System encourages communities to undertake actions which will reduce their community’s vulnerability to flooding to receive points and are certified into different classes based on the number of points they receive. Discounts to residents and businesses range from 5% – 45% in the Special Flood Hazard Area, allowing communities to save tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, and improving communities’ abilities to recover from and prevent flood loss, and afford flood insurance.

The NYS Climate Smart Communities Program supports municipalities as they plan and carry out climate-friendly actions that match community goals and save taxpayer dollars. Over 170 New York municipalities have made the decision to engage their citizens in energy efficiency, renewable energy and the green economy through the ten program elements in the Climate Smart Communities Pledge. The CSC Certification program provides a framework to guide a communities climate actions while also providing recognition for their leadership. There are over 120 individual actions communities can take to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change while also and simultaneously earning points in the program.

This workshop is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.

Click here to register! 

For more information, contact Camille Marcotte at ctm78@cornell.edu or (845) 677-8223, ext. 138.

This workshop is part of the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project, a program of Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension in partnership with the NYS Water Resource Institute and the NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program, with support from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund.

 

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Roe-Jan Watershed Association – HRWA’s Watershed Group of the month for August

Roe-Jan Watershed Map

The Roeliff Jansen Kill, usually called the Roe Jan, is a sixty-mile-long stream in southern Columbia County, emptying into the Hudson between the towns of Germantown and Livingston. The Roe Jan has a 212 square mile watershed, comprising about a quarter of Columbia County. 37 square miles of the watershed are in Dutchess County, and about 13 square miles in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

The Roe Jan Watershed Association grew out of a pilot sampling project done as part of
Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program. With the support of Riverkeeper, the Bard Water
Lab, and Trout Unlimited, sampling is being done at 14 locations in the area of the Roe Jan
watershed on the third Saturday of each month from May through October.

For more information, click here!

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Climate Smart Communities Forum: Supporting Municipal Efforts to Become Climate Resilient

2016-05-05 09_49_37-The Climate Smart Communities Certification Program Tickets, Sat, Jun 4, 2016 at

Date: Saturday, June 4th, 2016
Time: 9:00am – 12:30pm (Doors open at 8:30am)
Location: Vassar College, Villard Room, 124 Raymond Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY
Register online at: http://csccertificationforum.eventbrite.com

On April 18th Governor Cuomo announced “$11 million in Climate Smart Community grants is available for municipalities to become more resilient to the effects of climate change.” 

This forum will provide communities an overview of the NYS Climate Smart Communities (CSC) Certification program, the benefits to participating in the program and how to get started. Participants will learn about how completion of certain CSC Certification actions increases the competitiveness of applications for CSC grants. Presentations will also include case studies from communities that are participating in the CSC certification program as part of their strategy to become more resilient to extreme weather.

The NYS Climate Smart Communities Program supports municipalities as they plan and carry out climate-friendly actions that match community goals and save taxpayer dollars. Over 170 New York municipalities have made the decision to engage their citizens in energy efficiency, renewable energy and the green economy through the ten program elements in the Climate Smart Communities Pledge. The CSC Certification program provides a framework to guide a communities climate actions while also providing recognition for their leadership.   There are over 120 individual actions communities can take to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change while also and simultaneously earning points in the program. 

This Forum is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided. 

For more information, contact Carolyn at cak97@cornell.edu or (845) 677-8223, ext. 135. 

This forum is part of the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency Project, a program of Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension in partnership with the NYS Water Resource Institute and the NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program, with support from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund.

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The Normans Kill Watershed – HRWA’s Watershed of the month for April

Normanskill_Watershed,_New_York

A tributary of the Hudson River – the largest in Albany County, the Normans Kill flows southeasterly over 40 miles through Schenectady and Albany Counties, draining 170 square miles of farmland, woodland, wetlands and developed areas.  The name ‘Normans Kill’ comes from the Dutch word for ‘Norwegian,’ after a settler who owned lands at the mouth of the creek in the 17th century.  While there is not currently an active watershed group here, there are several municipalities and groups like the Stormwater Coalition of Albany County and Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy that are involved with protecting this creek.

Click here for more information on the Normans Kill!

www.hudsonwatershed.org 

 

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