Op/Ed

Editorial: Storms send a signal

ANGELO LYNN

As Vermont braces for more rain this Thursday and Friday, state-municipal and volunteer crews are working miracles to restore devastated downtowns, get commercial and retail buildings cleaned out, and repair hundreds of personal residences as well as reconstruct damaged roads and bridges. As with after Tropical Storm Irene, the speed with which buildings and roads are returned to a useable state will be almost as surprising as the shock of the devastation done.

That’s high praise for the resilience of the state, and of each affected community.

Equally important, however, is planning for the next deluge. The reality is our changing climate means there will be another flood and it’ll happen sooner than expected.

The frequency should change the calculus of how town’s respond. 

In many instances, it may no longer be reasonable to put our heads down, shoulders into a shovel, and mindlessly rebuild in the same location. That’s grit and determination, but is it smart?

The current flooding ranks right up there with the Tropical Storm Irene in late August of 2011 (just a dozen years ago); before then it is comparable to the great flood of 1927 — 84 years prior. It’s anyone’s guess, but if I were betting, I’d wager the next flood on this scale will be closer to 10 years than 84. 

Science has an explanation. Higher average temperatures on land mean the atmosphere holds 7% more moisture for each 1.8 degrees (F) rise. A warmer Atlantic Ocean compounds the problem. Climate scientists have been telling us this for years, and they are predicting more rain more often in this part of the country.

The question then is two-fold: 1) how do we rebuild on site in ways that are flood resistant, and if that is not practical what’s the trigger point that prompts a move to higher ground; and 2) are we pursuing long-term solutions?

Each town has to answer the first question, as flooding and rainfall are so localized as to make any general edict impractical, but the state should encourage such planning with grant incentives — particularly for flood-prone communities and those that may not have done enough in the aftermath of Irene.

As for longer-term solutions, the state could do more to move residents off fossil fuels by encouraging greater use of renewables and transitioning from gas-powered vehicles to electric vehicles and hybrids. And because EV chargers need to be more prolific sooner than later, it will likely be up to municipalities to play a more aggressive role in making their downtowns (and commercial districts) EV friendly with state aid helping but not meeting the need.

Locally, Addison County residents should simply ask: Are we prepared when 9-10 inches of rain soaks us? This storm dumped just 3-5 inches over a couple of days throughout most of Addison County. In short, it missed us. Now’s the time to prepare for the storm that doesn’t miss.

Angelo Lynn

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