The far-reaching impacts on people, businesses and communities caused by Hurricane Ida from the Gulf Coast to the northeastern states were truly heartbreaking to see. Lives have been changed forever and, tragically, too many people are now lost.
Ida’s devastation is an important reminder and call to action to make the necessary adjustments to the way we, as a society, plan, prepare for, and respond to natural disasters. This need is heightened by the increasing volatility of weather conditions and the frequency of extreme weather events around the world, driven by climate change, as noted in the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
But weather professionals alone cannot save lives. We need the help of local and state officials to amplify severe weather warnings and coordinate, communicate and implement contingency plans before disaster reaches the point of no return.
READ MORE: Hundreds of Philly area residents lost their homes in Ida. In a city, they wonder if they will ever be able to rebuild.
Forecasts and warnings about Ida and its associated devastating effects were clear and precise, days in advance, every step of Ida’s journey. Compared to Hurricane Camille and other hurricanes of decades past, the number of lives lost would have been much higher without the very precise and actionable rescue warnings provided by today’s forecast community.
AccuWeather meteorologists applied cutting-edge science to benefit communities in Louisiana and the northeastern Gulf Coast, including predicting 4 to 8 inches of rain expected to come “quickly and furiously” in just a few hours . In New York City, Philadelphia, and the surrounding I-95 corridor, AccuWeather forecasters intentionally used strong language to communicate the risk, warning of a “significant risk of flash flooding, watch for rapidly rising waters” , and later, “major, widespread and alive – threatening flash flooding. The National Weather Service issued a rare” high “risk of flash flooding in the northeast the day before Ida’s arrival, as well as flash flood watches WPVI in Philadelphia has warned its public in advance to prepare for dangerous flooding to come from Hurricane Ida.
However, even with good predictions, we all need to do more to protect people and improve our resilience. Despite all the prior warnings, neither Mayor Jim Kenney in Philadelphia nor Bill DeBlasio in New York issued a travel ban, for example, before Ida. Why did life go on normally?
Cities in the northeast have a comprehensive response infrastructure activated regularly before snowstorms, intended to minimize damage, injury and death. If the forecast had called for 4 to 8 inches of snow, especially several inches per hour, there would undoubtedly have been a virtual shutdown of major metropolitan cities, including event and flight cancellations – in addition to travel bans and many other restrictions and warnings to protect people.
Because it was a rainstorm, proper preparations were not made in advance, although storms that produce copious amounts of storm surges and / or torrential rain have historically been been responsible for more deaths than snowstorms.
READ MORE: Ida’s Fatal Power Didn’t Shock Scientists Studying How Climate Change Primed The Pump
In Philadelphia and its suburbs, more than 450 water rescues were carried out, but in the end five lives were lost. A travel ban has never been issued; instead, warnings to evacuate and avoid areas with dangerous flooding were shared by authorities after the fact. Trigger a travel ban and evacuate occupants before the rain had started, predicted to have saved lives.
Elected officials need to develop the same type of response framework that has been used successfully for snowstorms in extreme precipitation and other severe weather events. Ironically, many of these same elected officials often stress the need to act on climate change, but it doesn’t appear that this has yet translated into the much needed resilience to extreme weather events.
The issue of infrastructure also needs to be revisited closely with regard to threatening weather conditions. While Katrina in 2005 was an infrastructure disaster due to the failure of the water protection system, Ida was an infrastructure nightmare due to the catastrophic power outage. Louisiana residents endured, in some cases weeks, without power in the scorching hot weather of late summer – an additional risk to life and health that amplified the suffering. The Schuylkill and Perkiomen Creek reached their highest levels in history and overflowed. The water from the Schuylkill flooded the roads and neighboring houses and even plunged a large SEPTA line underwater.
In almost every severe storm, we find that the city’s infrastructure is not ready for today’s extreme weather conditions.
These challenges offer a real opportunity to take increasingly accurate and actionable weather forecasts seriously, and to achieve better results. Whatever the disaster, one of the great things about Americans is our ability to take a hard look at dire situations and figure out how to work together to make improvements, so that next time we can better “overcome them.” storm “. Now is our opportunity to learn from Ida. Lives can be saved in the future, human suffering can be reduced and our country will become more resilient.
Jonathan Porter is senior vice president of forecast operations and chief meteorologist at AccuWeather. He has worked at State College-based AccuWeather since 2004 and oversees all forecasting, content and graphics operations.