1. Update
  2. Environment & Energy

Florence Is Only the Beginning

By Milo Keller, September 21, 2018

The effects of Hurricane Florence are still being felt, and already it is one of the most devastating weather events this country has ever experienced.

According to CBS News, the storm claimed 37 lives, knocked out power for nearly 350,000 people, and dumped 30 inches of water on North Carolina. Among the deaths are the harrowing stories of a mother and infant son killed when a tree collapsed onto their home, and two patients who drowned when their van was swept away by flood waters.

Climate change exacerbated Hurricane Florence. The evidence suggests that storms like this will grow in frequency and severity unless we do something to address climate change.

An Air and Marine Operations Black Hawk crew prepares to assess damages caused by Hurricane Florence in South Carolina on September 18, 2018. Photo by Ozzy Trevino/Customs and Border Protection Flickr

Photo: Ozzy Trevino/CBP

Storms are Getting Worse

Climate change intensifies hurricanes for several reasons. Rising sea levels contribute to massive storm surges, flooding larger areas of land. Warming oceans also generate more intense rainfall and stronger winds.

According to a recent study by Stony Brook University, climate change resulted in 50 percent more rainfall than Florence would have produced under climate change-free conditions, and made the storm almost 10 percent larger. Worse, Kevin Reed, the study’s lead author, found evidence that extreme precipitation can increase by more than 60 percent for every degree Celsius the sea surface temperature is raised. As oceans warm due to climate change, storms are only going to get worse.

Climate Justice and Environmental Racism

Our concern about these extreme weather events goes beyond their scope and severity to the communities who are impacted. Time and again, we see that poor and marginalized communities experience the harshest impacts of these storms.

Many low-income residents of North and South Carolina did not have the resources to evacuate as the storm approached. In one housing complex in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the landlord boarded his office up and left, leaving his residents to weather the storm with no protection or assistance.

When hurricanes occur, people experiencing homelessness often do not have anywhere to take refuge. Homeless shelters are not always prepared to house the number of people in need during storms of this size. In fact, many shelters in the Carolinas closed as soon as evacuation orders were imposed, because they were not prepared to weather severe hurricanes.

In the aftermath of the storm, vulnerable communities are grappling with the impacts of toxic coal ash spills and overflowing lakes filled with pig feces. The communities neighboring North Carolina’s hog farms and coal power plants are some of the poorest in the state. Both contaminants are toxic and can poison groundwater. Those most impacted are people of color and families living in poverty.

FCNL will continue to monitor the impacts of Hurricane Florence and hold all those affected in the Light. In the wake of this catastrophic storm, we must recommit ourselves to working towards climate change solutions, uplift those impacted, and support coastal communities as they adapt to our changing weather patterns. Hurricane Florence is only the beginning.

Milo Keller

  • Program Assistant, Sustainable Energy and Environment

Milo Keller served as the Program Assistant for Sustainable Energy and Environment for 2018-2019.