Saturday, August 12, 2017

Climate Change Compounds Louisiana Flooding Threat a Year After Historic Floods

The Circle Food Store was engulfed in floodwater in New Orleans. (Brett Duke/ Press) Click image to enlarge.
“It was eerie to watch images of New Orleans’ flooding almost a year after the Baton Rouge flood,” Tam Williams, a videographer who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told me.  Every time it rains, she is a bit on edge, wondering if her city is going to flood again. 

A week before the anniversary of last summer’s 1,000-year flood in Baton Rouge, rain inundated New Orleans, with more than 9 inches falling in only three hours. 

The Red Cross deemed the Baton Rouge flood, which occurred when over two feet of rain fell in 48 hours,  the worst in the United States since Hurricane Sandy.  It claimed 13 lives and damaged some 55,000 homes and 6,000 businesses. 

Williams vividly recalls that time.  Her family's home took on a couple feet of water.  The structure wasn’t beyond repair, but many of her belongings were destroyed.  Things are getting back to normal for her and her family now, but she was left with a psychological scar, a fear of rain.  “Every time it rains, I wonder if it is happening again,” she said.

Louisiana’s excessive rains last year joined a long list of extreme weather events in 2016, which resulted from long-term global warming combined with a strong El Nino weather pattern.

Williams thinks denying that humans are causing climate change is irresponsible.  “Whether we want to accept it or not, the way we live has a direct effect on the climate,” she said.  “To have people in power, in charge of policy, denying climate change, is crazy to me, even with clear evidence that’s what’s going on.” 

Flooding in New Orleans
“We are in an era of climate change,” Cedric Grant, head of New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, declared in a press conference following the August 5 flooding that took the city by surprise.  Grant was shifting blame from the city’s pumping system, claiming the pumps had worked to 100 percent of their capacity. 

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Grant’s statement was tone deaf, but insisted even with the city’s pump system working up to par, it could not handle that much rain.  Thanks to its low-lying terrain, New Orleans sits as much as five to 10 feet below sea level and is prone to flooding.

Though Grant’s assessment of climate change is accurate, his statement about the pumping system was not, leading him to announce his resignation at an emergency city council meeting two days after the flood. 

By that time it was revealed that in one of New Orleans’ flooded neighborhoods, the area’s pump system was working at less than 50 percent capacity. 

But the faulty pump system’s role in the recent flooding doesn't negate climate change’s role in the deluge that stalled all activity in the city.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said rising temperatures driven by human activity made flooding in Louisiana at least 40 percent more likely.

Read more at Climate Change Compounds Louisiana Flooding Threat a Year After Historic Floods

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