Hurricane Ida’s Climate Resilience Lesson
The pictures of Hurricane Ida’s wreckage across Louisiana are grim, and the storm isn’t over. But the good news is that New Orleans appears to have weathered the tempest as well as could be expected thanks to its post-Katrina flood-protection investments.
This is a reminder of how hardening infrastructure against unpredictable Mother Nature pays off.
Ida slammed into Louisiana’s Port Fourchon on Sunday as a Category 4 storm with wind speeds of 150 miles an hour and one to two inches of rain an hour.
Its winds tie it as the fifth strongest storm to hit the U.S. mainland. Such heavy winds and precipitation will inevitably cause flooding and damage buildings.
But the bigger worry going into Ida was that a catastrophic storm surge would breach New Orleans’s levees and submerge the city as happened 16 years ago to the day during Hurricane Katrina.
Clocking in as a lower-grade Category 3 storm when it made landfall, Katrina killed some 2,000 people and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage. New Orleans took years to recover.
Yet Louisiana and the feds have since spent $14.5 billion on bolstering floodwalls, levees, and drainage systems.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reinforced pumping stations to withstand 205 mile-per-hour winds and established redundant power systems to operate them if the electric grid fails, as it did Sunday.
These investments appear to have paid off.
Many streets are flooded from the heavy rainfall and some small towns outside of New Orleans’s flood-protection fortress were inundated. But more importantly, a Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority spokesperson on Monday said there were no levee breaches or problems with pumps in New Orleans.
The biggest failure was the electric grid. Eight transmission lines that serve the city went down and a grid imbalance caused a loss of power generation across the region, cutting off power to nearly one million Louisianans.
Essential businesses like hospitals can run on backup generators, but it could take weeks to restore power in some neighborhoods.
There’s probably a case for burying some power lines and girding substations to withstand more powerful storms, as Florida Power & Light Company is doing in Florida neighborhoods that have experienced damage to power lines in past storms.
Hardening the grid to withstand extreme weather isn’t cheap, but the payoff is likely worth it.
As predictable as the sunrise, the climate lobby is blaming humanity’s fossil-fuel sins for Ida. But even the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report this month notes “there is low confidence in long-term (multi-decadal to centennial) trends in the frequency of all-category tropical cyclone” (i.e., hurricanes).
The report says that it is likely that the global proportion of Category 3 or higher tropical cyclones has increased over the past four decades, but that “data limitations inhibit clear detection of past trends on the global scale.”
In short, we don’t really know whether global warming has caused or will cause more intense storms in the future.
But no matter how much the world warms, more extreme weather will happen. Building more resilient infrastructure and better emergency alert systems will do far more good than all of the Biden Administration’s climate policies.
Germany has spent hundreds of billions subsidizing green energy, but nearly 200 of its citizens perished in last month’s floods that local governments failed to prepare for.
Priorities also matter so scarce resources aren’t wasted. Too much of the Senate’s infrastructure bill is devoted to green boondoggles, rather than resilience.
California Democrats have prioritized banishing fossil fuels over hardening the grid and clearing deadwood. The result has been frequent power outages during heavy winds and catastrophic wildfires.
PG&E, the California utility, last month said it will spend $20 billion to bury 10,000 miles of power lines, which were found to have instigated several deadly wildfires. It’s about time.
Government can’t command the tides, but it can protect people from them.
Read more at WSJ ($)
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