Editor’s note: Park officials said Saturday that Acadia plans to stay open through Sunday, Oct. 1 if the federal government shuts down.
Sadly, we’ve become somewhat accustomed to weather disasters in other parts of the world. In recent years, floods have displaced people and destroyed homes and other buildings in Asia. Droughts have plagued Africa, leading to food shortages and conflicts.
This week, damaging floods happened closer to home, offering a somber reminder of the reality and dangers of our changing climate. On Tuesday, Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, remained cut off from the rest of the state by flood waters, which inundated the country’s smallest capital city.
Although the rain had stopped, there was still concern Tuesday morning that a dam near Montpelier was near capacity and that water may have to be released, which would add to the already record high levels on the Winooski River.
“This has never happened since the dam was built so there is no precedent for potential damage,” City Manager William Fraser wrote in a statement posted to Montpelier’s Facebook page early Tuesday morning. “There would be a large amount of water coming into Montpelier which would drastically add to the existing flood damage.”
Residents who had not evacuated the city were warned to stay on higher ground or in the upper floors of their homes. Some emergency communication towers, which are needed for police and ambulance dispatch, were damaged in the storm and are not functional.
The amount of rain that fell in parts of Vermont on Monday and Tuesday was eye-popping.
Dozens of state roads were closed because of the flooding and parts of Interstate 89 were shut down overnight. Several communities remain inaccessible. Flooding also destroyed roads in upstate New York.
President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency in Vermont, which unlocks federal resources and funding for response and relief efforts.
“The devastation and flooding we’re experiencing across Vermont is historic and catastrophic,” Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said at a news conference on Tuesday morning. He said that thousands of Vermont residents had lost their homes or businesses.
“Historic” storms, however, are becoming commonplace in the U.S. and around the world. Although the number of storms is not increasing, they are becoming more intense, especially in coastal areas, scientists say. Like record heat across the world, this increased intensity of storms is yet another hard-hitting example of the impact of a changing climate.
“I think it’s important for the public to take [this] seriously,” Adam Sobel, a climate scientist at Columbia University, told NPR earlier this year. “The storms are getting stronger. So even for the same number of storms, the number that are a real problem goes up because they are strengthening.”
This is why both efforts to mitigate climate change and to adapt to its consequences are essential. Mitigation involves reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and other steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Adaptation involves changes in building patterns in coastal areas among other measures to help communities prepare for changes in sea level, rainfall and temperatures that are predicted to intensify as our climate changes.
So far, thankfully, there have been few reports of deaths or injuries in Vermont and New York. Lives, however, will have been forever altered by the storm, which destroyed homes, businesses and their contents.
A federal disaster declaration will help. It is also a reminder to critics of this type of federal support that the next disaster could be in your neighborhood. As storms intensify and our climate changes at an unexpectedly fast rate, the next devastating wildfire, winter storm, hurricane or flood could be in your community.