The remnants of Hurricane Ida were strong enough to cause flash floods in several states and disrupt transit across parts of New Jersey and New York. Dozens of people were killed in four states, with 43 already confirmed dead.
President Biden calls extreme weather one of the greatest challenges of our time as climate change makes storms wilder and wetter.
As political leaders acknowledged that extreme weather posed a clear and present danger, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania remained shocked by the after-effects of the devastating storm. Over 150,000 homes remained without power.
A state of emergency was in effect across the region as the administration struggled to revive a semblance of normalcy. New York experienced 3 inches (76.2 millimeters) of rain in 1 hour, breaking previous records. highways and streets were flooded, while the subways were shut down due to flooding. Around 10 inches of rain fell in some parts of the city.
Hurricane Ida Was Equally Devastating Even In The Absence Of Storm Surges
Most deaths occurred in vulnerable basement apartments. It was a repeat of Superstorm Sandy that devastated New York over a decade ago. Americans woke up to the fact that climate change is at our doorsteps. Fierce storms and flooding will become the new normal, on a scale that can disrupt and destabilize society on a scale seen in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Sandy was accompanied by a storm surge, something which was absent in the present crisis. Then the areas most affected were near waterways; areas such as Rockaway peninsula and Lower Manhattan. But areas left unscathed during Sandy were devastated as Hurricane Ida dumped large volumes of water as it passed over New York.
The coastline remained relatively unaffected this time, but Hurricane Ida has revealed another disturbing reality. It proved that even seawalls and secure coastlines might not be adequate to withstand future storms.
The devastation of hard rain raised its specter. Hurricane Ida dumped large volumes of water in a short period, overwhelming all protective measures. This gives rise to a typical problem common to concrete jungles around the world.
The water hits the concrete ground and immediately rushes downhill in the absence of open ground capable of absorbing the water. Local water bodies capable of absorbing waterways are needed to absorb this rush of water, underground flooding becomes inevitable. The sudden flooding left people trapped in their vehicles, killing at least two.
People were pinned by the force of the water in their basement apartments as it flooded in moments. Neighbors living on upper floors could only watch helplessly as people they knew drowned, pinned underground by the ferocity of the water.
The Problem Is Not New
City planners were aware of this problem for a long time. But rapid climate change has overwhelmed the plans of even the greatest of cities.
Even areas high above the storm surge level are not immune to flooding. Planners will need to reconsider existing plans and redesign the protective measures from scratch. The first focus has to be on people living in cellars and basement apartments. Though a reality in packed mega-cities, they will be the first affected during future storms of the intensity of Hurricane Ida.
Immediate federal support is needed for long-term planning. Resiliency projects have to be taken up. Cities like New York are far behind in achieving the tough environmental measures to be undertaken to meet the climate goals, such as carbon-free power by 2040. All elements of the Green New Deal have to be implemented and only that can save us from more extreme climatic conditions.
People have realized that Hurricane Ida was not an isolated extreme weather event. There are more indications of the worsening climate crisis, and it is time world leaders took note and acted upon it.