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When it rains, it pours—at least during Atlantic hurricane season. Although the tropical storm period began in June, the peak starts in mid-August according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last fall, Hurricane Ida killed 13 New Yorkers and cost the city billions in damages. 

So how can folks in the “Big Apple” avoid repeat tragedies? Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of Columbia University Climate School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness says planning is a binary process.

Credit: Image by Amanda Ulla

“The good news is it really comes down to…you’re either gonna have to stay in one place for a while—because you can’t get out, it gets flooded, maybe transportation’s down—or you’re gonna have to leave right away, because conditions are dangerous, and you don’t have a lot of time and you just have to get what you need.”

Schlegelmilch says these preparations are unfortunately the new norm. Hurricane Ida broke record rainfall numbers and was the Big Apple’s first official National Weather Service flash-flood emergency. Prof. Suzana Camargo, who also works at Columbia University’s Climate School with a focus on climate and ocean physics, says climate change spells higher risks of flooding even if hurricanes maintain the same intensity from decades past. 

“When you have storm surge, it’s going to flood more areas because one of the best projections of climate change is that you’re going to have sea level rise,” said Camargo. “Think about [a] hurricane happening today. And how that can happen 100 years [ago]. The same hurricane in theory would have been the same storm surge, but you don’t, because in 100 years, the sea level is [now] higher.”

Storm surges occur when bodies of water are pushed inland—most notably when Hurricane Sandy topped the Manhattan seawall back in 2012. And even the tallest barriers can’t block direct, torrential rains from storms like Ida. Still, Schlegelmilch is confident New Yorkers will adapt. 

“Just like we have to think about our utilities, and what we need to know [in] the household, we have to think of emergency preparedness,” he said. “We don’t have to build bunkers, become preppers. And you can, if that’s how you want to spend your hard-earned money.” 

Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting:

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