The tattered remnants of what was recently Hurricane Florence swept over Connecticut on Tuesday, leaving little but a breezy rain. Connecticut escaped this one, and we are fortunate. Parts of North Carolina are devastated.
Connecticut hasn’t had a direct hit from a hurricane since Gloria, which tore a path through the central part of the state in late September 1985. Power was cut to 727,000 customers. Damage was estimated at $91 million. An eerie chorus of chainsaws and generators buzzed for days.
That was 33 years ago, and compared to some of the storms endured more recently in other parts of the country — think Harvey, Katrina, Florence — it was minor. Connecticut is overdue for a major storm.
Hurricane Irene, which nicked the western edge of Connecticut in late August 2011, caused catastrophic flooding in Vermont. The shoreline took a hit, but for the most part, we escaped. Superstorm Sandy raked the shore before slamming into New York and New Jersey in late October 2012, causing some $70 billion in damage all told — but “only” about $1 billion of that was in Connecticut. It was a glancing blow, but it could have been much worse here.
One year ago, Hurricane Maria racked Puerto Rico. The effects are still being felt, there and in Connecticut. The storm is estimated to have caused the deaths of 2,975. Puerto Ricans who came to Connecticut in the aftermath are still struggling. The storm itself missed Connecticut.
But major storms have happened here. Eighty years ago this week, the Hurricane of 1938 plowed across Long Island and into New England, killing 682, damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes, and causing the equivalent of about $5 billion in damage.
Connecticut hasn’t seen the likes of it since. But there are two ways of looking at it: Connecticut has been lucky, or its luck is running out.
And in the meantime, climate change has increased the potential for danger.
A recent study of Hurricane Florence estimated that it delivered 50 percent more rainfall than it would have if climate change hadn’t been in effect. It was also much larger in size and duration because of the effects of climate change.
Climate change is in play in Connecticut as well. Scientists at UConn’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation have recommended that the state prepare for up to 20 inches of sea-level rise by 2050, and they predict that the sea level in Long Island Sound will continue to rise beyond that.
What Can Connecticut Residents Do?
Plenty. Individuals can take little steps in their daily lives to decrease the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Drive less or carpool. Connecticut has one of the lowest rates of carpoolers in the nation. Consider public transportation — the offerings have expanded and are serving more people than ever. Lower the thermostat a little in the winter. Use more efficient lights. Little things go a long way.
The state government should continue to fund alternative energy sources. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was right when he committed to pursue efforts to fight climate change after President Donald Trump pulled out of the historic Paris accord last year.
Local environmental groups such as the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters push legislators to pursue responsible environmental policies, and their work should be applauded. Voters can urge their representatives to enact sensible measures.
Climate change is not a threat: It is a process already underway. Massive storms such as Florence, Maria and Sandy show how bad future storms will be. And sooner or later, one will bull’s-eye Connecticut.
But it’s not too late to work to forestall the changes. As an old proverb says: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago — and the second-best time is now.