Torrential rains, high-wind speeds, and flooded infrastructure. This can only mean one thing… it’s that time of year again. Hurricane Season.
From June 1 to November 30, tropical storms form in the Atlantic Ocean and make their way towards the Americas and Caribbean. Nature’s might is on full display as these storms arrive unimpeded and leave nothing but destruction behind.
Hurricane Isaias was the first major storm of this season and has already caused widespread damage totaling up to $4 billion in the US alone. It has also delivered Caribbean nations around $200 million in damages. It is a sobering reality that there’s only so much that can be done when facing Mother Nature’s wrath.
The Eastern United States and the Caribbean can attribute the origins of these storms to one location: Cabo Verde.
Cabo Verde is a chain-island country off the coast of Western Africa. Although it has no effect on the formation of storms, the Cabo Verde area is the starting point for most Atlantic storms.
The combination of moist cool air and the warm water of the Atlantic ocean is a recipe for generating some of the fiercest storms that have occurred in the Western hemisphere.
Hurricane Matthew (Category 5, 2016) and Florence (Category 4, 2018) are a few of the storms that have brought devastation.
In this world, nothing can be for certain except for death, taxes, and tropical storms lashing out on the Eastern States and the Caribbean.
One of the main concerns of hurricanes is the amount of damage that comes with settlements that are on the coastal front. Water rises above the maintainable threshold and levels certain parts of settlements with high-rise floods.
The most recent occurrence of this was the Houston floods of 2019 which were caused by one of the wettest storms on record in that region, Tropical Storm Imelda.
Mother Nature’s wrath is merciless. There is no stopping a hurricane; not even nuking a storm would work.
The best that can happen is to slow it down and prepare for the consequences. Within a decade, the planet will see a major coastal city wiped off the map if environmental, economic, and energy policies stay the way they are. They are simply not sustainable.
Designing and building for a wetter future is a concrete solution. Protection against stronger hurricanes, global warming, and its byproduct of rising sea levels is absolutely necessary. The benefits of being proactive firmly outweigh the consequences of being unprepared. Coastal resiliency is the most efficient method for doing so.
What is coastal resiliency?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
“Coastal resilience means building the ability of a community to “bounce back” after hazardous events such as hurricanes, coastal storms, and flooding – rather than simply reacting to impacts.”
Why is coastal resiliency needed?
Over the past three decades, sea levels have risen year over year at an alarming rate. Higher sea levels translate into deadlier storm surges pushing farther inland than they once did, which also means more frequent flooding.
Access to water is the most vital resource for humans. It is no wonder that approximately 40% of the US population lives on the coast. With over 130 million Americans at risk of coastal flooding, cities must prepare for such a disaster through design and engineering.
Here are some examples of how coastal cities are designing for the future:
Bostonians have experienced their fair share of extreme weather over the past few years. Having seen piping hot summers and flooding during winter storms and King Tides, Boston is feeling the effects of climate change. The city has taken notice and is now putting into action a plan to prepare them for future lashings from mother nature.
Climate Ready Boston is an initiative by the city to plan for the impacts of climate change and build a resilient future.
From their vision, it can be seen that many infrastructure projects are being planned and built out along Boston’s waterfront.
Infrastructure includes Protective waterfront parks comprised of waterfront gateways, living edges, and neighborhood beaches. Open space strategies include elevated harborwalks and other adapted infrastructure.
When Hurricane Sandy pulled up to NYC’s shorelines in 2012, it was the sauciest bhai at the party. Sandy resulted in deaths, billions in damages, lost economic activity and damaged tens of thousands of residential units which temporarily displaced thousands of New Yorkers.
Sandy was a catalyst for reshaping NYC’s future infrastructure. The future had to be more sustainable and resilient. Enter OneNYC, a strategic initiative by the Bill de Blasio administration with bold actions to confront the climate crisis, achieve equity, and strengthen democracy; to build and strong and fair city for now and the future.
There are four main goals that NYC will pursue. The first is creating safer city neighborhoods by strengthening community, social, and economic resiliency. Secondly, city buildings will be upgraded against climate-changing impacts.
Third, infrastructure systems across the region will adapt to maintain continued services. And fourth, but not least, New York City’s coastal defenses will be strengthened against flooding and sea-level rise.
Hurricane Sandy not only forced NYC into action but the surrounding localities as well. New Jersey was hit just as bad as NYC and this spurred action among the state’s housing and urban development officials.
In 2013, the United Staes Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded $230 million to the State of New Jersey for their coastal resiliency project in Hoboken, Weehawken, and Jersey City.
The project, Rebuild by Design, takes a comprehensive approach to resiliency and is comprised of four elements: resist, delay, store, and discharge.
The four elements from this project can be broken down into the following:
Resist: A combination of hard infrastructure and soft landscaping features that act as barriers along the coast during exceptionally high tide or storm surge events.
Delay: Incorporate policy recommendations, guidelines, and urban green infrastructure to slow stormwater runoff.
Store: Implement green and grey infrastructure improvements, such as bioretention basins, swales, and green roofs, that slowdown and capture stormwater.
Discharge: Create enhancements to Hoboken’s existing stormwater management system, including the identification and upgrading of existing stormwater/sewer lines, outfalls, and pumping stations.
With 2020 being an election year, it is more important than ever to vote for representatives that not only are for the promotion of social equality and equity but for sustainability and resiliency as well.
There is an old, ironic saying,
“May you live in interesting times.”
2020 has been just that.
Life is better in uninteresting times of peace and prosperity.