Most Hurricanes That Hit The US Start in The Exact Same Location

Just weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused destruction in Texas, Irma has made landfall in Florida – and there are still almost 12 weeks left of Atlantic hurricane season. It raises the question – where are all of these storms coming from?

Research has shown that most of the monster storms that hit the US and Canada start out as a distinct weather pattern in the atmosphere over western Africa, specifically a spot off the coast of the African Cape Verde islands.

In fact, a 2015 study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that by closely watching these tropical disturbances off the coast of western Africa, researchers could better predict which of them would turn into serious hurricanes a few weeks later.

“85 percent of the most intense hurricanes affecting the US and Canada start off as disturbances in the atmosphere over western Africa,” said lead researcher Colin Price from Tel Aviv University in Israel at the time.

“We found that the larger the area covered by the disturbances, the higher the chance they would develop into hurricanes only one to two weeks later.”

Interestingly, these hurricanes are directly linked to one of the driest places on Earth – the Sahara desert.

The interaction between the hot dry air of the Sahara and the cooler, more humid air from the Gulf of Guinea to its South forms what’s known as the African easterly jet, which blows from east to west across Africa.

Within this jet, atmospheric disturbances or bands of thunderstorm activity known as tropical waves can form. As they blow off the west coast of Africa past Cape Verde, the 2015 study showed that the amount of cloud coverage at that point can predict whether or not these tropical waves will become hurricanes a week or two later.

How does that happen? Tropical waves interact with the warm equatorial water of the Atlantic as they head west, triggering columns of warm moist air to rise from the ocean.

That provides two of the three ingredients required for tropical storms to turn into full-blown hurricanes: moist air; Earth’s rotation; and warm ocean temperatures. When the swirling winds reach speeds of 74 mph (119 km/h), the storm is classified as a Category 1 hurricane.

Irma was first spotted as a tropical disturbance off the Cape Verde Islands in late August, before becoming a hurricane over the Atlantic as it made its way towards the Caribbean and US.

According to Price, only 10 percent of the 60 disturbances originating in Africa every year turn into hurricanes – but the ones that do have the opportunity to gather energy as they cross the Atlantic, which makes them so powerful that they’re more likely to hit the US and even Canada.

“Not all hurricanes that form in the Atlantic originate near Cape Verde, but this has been the case for most of the major hurricanes that have impacted the continental United States,” writes the NOAA.

Researchers around the world are now working on better being able to predict which of these disturbances is worth watching and preparing for.

“If we can predict a hurricane one or two weeks in advance — the entire lifespan of a hurricane — imagine how much better prepared cities and towns can be to meet these phenomena head on,” said Price.

The Dangerous Side Effects of Flooding

Residential flooding following torrential downpours, hurricanes and other severe weather events is one of the most heartbreaking headaches faced by a homeowner.

Drying out and cleaning up after a flood can be a laborious, expensive and exhausting experience with much attention paid to salvaging what hasn’t been claimed by floodwaters. However, there are a few side effects of flooding — some standard, some a bit unexpected depending on where you live — that can adversely impact the health, well-being and sanity of flood victims.

The above photo shows debris-filled floodwater in Texas after Hurricane Harvey tore through; you can see car parts, broken wood planks and various containers in the water. But for the sake of being prepared for just about everything — amphibians, reptiles and raw sewage included — here’s a look at more of the unsavory side effects of household flooding.

Sewage where it shouldn’t be

Heavy, steady rains can spell relief in drought-prone areas but with torrential downpours comes a rather gruesome side effect: backed-up sanitary or combined sewage lines. Excessive amounts of stormwater brought on by localized flooding can enter overworked and antiquated sewer systems and cause overflow to run into the street, possible into your home. Overworked sewer systems can result in overflowing toilets, raw sewage-leaking bathtub drains and more.

Unbeknownst to many homeowners, sewer-related backups are not covered by most homeowner’s insurance policies or flooding insurance; in most instances, protection against blocked private (lateral) and main sewage lines must be purchased separately as an additional rider at a nominal cost.

Clean-up following a sewage backup requires that homeowners practice extreme caution given the risk of coming in direct contact with dangerous pathogens. The Massachusetts department of Energy and Environmental Affairs offers a comprehensive guide on how to proceed.

Bacteria, and not the good kind

Outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhea tend to happen during natural disasters, including flooding, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. Bacteria, parasites and viruses, such as the norovirus, can spread as homes lose electricity, people gather together in close spaces and access to clean water becomes limited.

Floodwater in two Houston neighborhoods after Hurricane Harvey contained E. coli at a level more than four times that considered safe after breaches at 40 waste treatment plants, according to the New York Times. “Scientists found what they considered astonishingly high levels of E. coli in standing water in one family’s living room — levels 135 times those considered safe — as well as elevated levels of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in sediment from the floodwaters in the kitchen.public housing development,” the Times reports.

In addition to E. coli and heavy metals, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says floodwater also may contain infectious organisms, including intestinal bacteria such as salmonella, and shigella; Hepatitis A; and agents of typhoid, paratyphoid and tetanus.

OSHA says symptoms generally include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, muscle aches and fever. The most common source of illness during a flood is through consuming contaminated food or water. The exception is tetanus, which is when an infectious disease enters the body through a cut in your skin, affecting the nervous system and causing spasms.

The CDC says to seek medical attention or treat open woulds right away. Washing hands regularly, designating a toilet seat for people with diarrhea, using hand sanitizer and separating people who are ill from those who are healthy can help reduce illnesses. And follow any boil-water advisories that may be in effect.

Mold and all that comes with it

Mold growth and the myriad health concerns that come along with prolonged exposure to spores are a massive concern following residential flooding that can occur in the wake of severe weather events such as hurricanes. Discolored walls and ceilings, signs of water damage and a foul, musty odor are all dead giveaways that action should be taken immediately.

If in doubt, a mold remediation specialist can help identify the presence of health-compromising microscopic fungi. However, your eyes and nose are generally the best ways to detect an infestation.

A basic, initial step is to remove all wet possessions and building materials from a home within 24 to 48 hours of flooding as recommended by the CDC. If it cannot be dried, cleaned and replaced, the item should be discarded — this particularly applies to carpeting, ceiling tiles and drywall. It is crucial to also air out a home by opening doors and windows and employing fans, air conditioners and/or de-humidifiers. Cleaning semi-porous and nonporous items with soap and water or a commercial mold remediation product can further prevent mold growth as can basic moisture control practices such as increasing air circulation, fixing leaks, cleaning air ducts and eliminating sources of indoor condensation.

Mosquitoes and standing water

Near or directly in bodies of stagnant water of pretty much any shape, size or form — marshes, puddles, lakes, irrigated pastures, streams, clogged gutters, flower pots, half-empty birdbaths and the list goes on — is where annoying and potentially deadly mosquitoes choose to lay their eggs. And generally, these disease-carrying vectors in their adult form don’t stray too far from where they were born.

Residential flooding can spell trouble when it comes to plagues of mosquitoes.

The most effective way to control mosquito populations following heavy rain and flooding is through source reduction or the elimination of the places where these particularly pesky insects breed and thrive — old tires, buckets, plastic wading pools, wheelbarrows, etc.

Fuel where it shouldn’t be

Alexandra Spychalsky, who lived in the path of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, writes for Bustle about the hazards of gasoline leaking into floodwaters:

More than a week after Hurricane Sandy struck my town, the block I lived on reeked of gasoline. My neighbors had filled their propane tanks days before the hurricane, which then knocked over and poured into the rushing floodwaters during the storm surge. The prevalence of boats in the area also contributed to the seepage of gasoline into floodwaters, which then dispersed throughout the neighborhood. Everything in my home that had touched floodwater had the distinct smell of gasoline on it.

Snakes, alligatora and frogs

Many flood-stricken homeowners, preoccupied with salvaging possessions and filing insurance claims, often neglect to remember that with rising waters sometimes come unwanted — and rather nightmarish houseguests — in the form of venomous reptiles.

Following the historic flooding that impacted large swaths of Australia in 2011, thousands of deadly displaced snakes (and crocodiles) terrified stunned residents of Queensland struggling to dry out. And this is a phenomenon not limited to Down Under.

During a 2015 flood in South Carolina, cottonmouth snakes were found in homes as floodwaters receded. The poisonous snakes washed ashore in Alabama that same year after a Christmas Day flood. But though they’re dangerous, experts say if you don’t touch them and leave them alone, they’ll do the same to you.

Grif Griffin of Augusta Crime Stoppers painted a terrifying picture following the recent flooding of the Savannah River: “They’re thousands of snakes that lived on this river and are now in people’s sewers. Those snakes will come up through your drain.”

In a rather extreme example, Paul Marinaccio Sr. was awarded $1.6 million in compensation in 2013 after flooding from a development near his Clarence, N.Y. home turned his 40-acre property into frog-heavy wetlands. Unnerving for sure, but Marinaccio was really affected by the flooding as he suffers from a severe phobia of frogs stemming from a traumatic childhood incident.

“You people don’t understand. I am petrified,” explained Marinaccio in his 2009 testimony. “In the winter, it’s OK, because I know there’s no frogs. But in the summertime, I’m a damn prisoner in my own home.”

Hurricanes Jose and Katia Are Forming on Either Side of Irma

On Wednesday, the tiny tropical island of Bermuda bore the first wave of fury unleashed by Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded. As vulnerable nearby islands scrambled to defend themselves against Irma, barreling toward Puerto Rico with sustained wind speeds of 185 mph, attention was briefly drawn away from the ocean from which it came, where even greater meteorological devastation is rapidly brewing.

There, in the central Atlantic, a tropical storm named Jose was quickly forming, and in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, tropical storm Katia started gaining strength.

By Wednesday afternoon, the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC) had confirmed that Jose’s “quickly strengthening” winds had gathered enough speed for it to qualify as a hurricane.

The sixth Public Advisory issued by the NHC didn’t list any coastal watches or warnings, but it warned that “[Interests] in the Leeward Islands should monitor the progress of Jose.” The hurricane’s winds have increased to near 75 mph — not quite enough for a category 5 rating on the Saffir–Simpson scale, like Irma — but the advisory noted that additional strengthening is in the forecast for Jose and that he could be “near major hurricane strength on Friday.”

Some of the Leeward Islands, like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Barbuda, have already been pummeled by Irma.

Tropical Storm Katia also reached hurricane status on Wednesday, leading the Mexican government to put a hurricane watch into effect for the coast of the state of Veracruz. The NHC’s Forecast Discussion released on Wednesday afternoon reported that Katia is forecast to “meander in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico for the next day or two.” After that, models predict that it will move southwest, toward Veracruz. Even before it makes landfall there, Katia is predicted to bring “torrential” rains to the state.

While it isn’t unprecedented for such high-level hurricanes to form one after another, some scientists are speculating, in Harvey’s wake, that climate change is to blame. In an interview with the Atlantic, Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, pointed out that the sea surface water in the Gulf of Mexico was between 2.7 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average as Harvey rapidly evolved from a tropical depression to a Category 4 hurricane.

“This is the main fuel for the storm,” said Trenberth. “Although these storms occur naturally, the storm is apt to be more intense, maybe a bit bigger, longer-lasting, and with much heavier rainfalls [because of that ocean heat].”

It seems likely that, as climate change causes the oceans to continue warming, these alphabetical strings of sibling storms — like Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Katia — won’t be so much the exception as the norm.

Mandatory Evacuations Begin In Florida As Hurricane Irma Makes Category 5 Landfall In The Caribbean

After Hurricane Irma emerged as a threat in the Caribbean and reached record speeds — with sustained wind speeds of 185 mph, she’s the second strongest hurricane ever recorded — Florida is treating this Category 5 storm with the utmost seriousness. As this CBS News report indicates, the state has issued a mandatory evacuation order for tourists in the Florida Keys. As of Wednesday evening, all Keys residents will also be subject to mandatory orders to scoot before the storm strikes. To complicate the situation, there’s only one road (U.S. Route 1) that leads out of the Keys, and the highway is guaranteed to be packed ahead of the projected mainland U.S. landfall.

Monroe County Emergency Operations Center Director Martin Senterfitt has the lowdown for the Keys:

“For the Florida Keys, if you were to create the worst case scenario that is what we are looking at. We’re emphatically telling people you must evacuate; you can not afford to stay on an island with a Category 5 hurricane coming at you.”

The storm’s current path projects a sharp northerly turn that virtually guarantees mainland Florida landfall this weekend. As Governor Rick Scott (who has declared a state of emergency for all Florida counties) tells ABC News in this clip, this could happen anywhere from Fort Myers to Miami (or even, as some outlets are pointing out, President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach). Scott’s warning is a dire one, for he points out that “it sure looks like it’s gonna barrel right down the middle” of Florida — as the first hurricane to make landfall in the state in a decade.

CNN reports that Irma is now passing over Barbuda in the Caribbean, and it’s headed toward Puerto Rico. Irma’s already taken a direct hit on Anguilla and St. Martin, where it has “destroyed the sturdiest buildings” on the island. These video clips show the full fury of Irma and the damage left behind.

Irma’s being described as “massive” across the board, and there’s a damn good reason why that’s the case. The storm has grown to the size of France, and as this graphic illustrates, Irma could easily dwarf the UK and Ireland.

Even worse, Irma’s not the only Atlantic threat right now. The ocean’s now hosting three named storms, including Tropical Storm Katia, which is impacting the Gulf of Mexico, and Tropical Storm Jose, which is east of Irma and is projected to become a hurricane within days. Although we’re currently sitting in the height of hurricane season, unusually warm waters are causing bigger storms than usual. And there may be more to come.

The Unusual Reason Tonight’s Full Moon is the Corn Moon

There’s a lot of unusual stuff going on around tonight’s full moon. First, it will rise to appear situated in the constellation of Aquarius. Second, and it will find its trajectory passing near Neptune as the blue planet will have been sitting in opposition on Tuesday evening; the point at which the planet will have appeared brightest in our sky.

To see the full moon and Neptune at the same time, you’ll need to have a telescope, or at least binoculars, because far-away Neptune isn’t visible to the naked eye. According to Space.com, the moon and Neptune will pass within 0.73 degrees of each other around 1 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, with Neptune hanging out just to the northwest of the moon.

The moon will be officially full at 3 a.m. Eastern Wednesday, so plan to stay up late tonight.

Traditionally, September’s full moon is always called the Harvest Moon, but not this time around. Since the Harvest Moon is always the full moon that arrives closest to the fall equinox (September 22), the full moon on October 5 will get the iconic title. September’s full moon, instead, has been deemed the Corn Moon. It’s been the go-to name for the full moon when it falls far enough away from the fall equinox, as First Nations tribes always gave the moon names that reflected aspects of the season.

As the Corn Moon, or alternately the Barley Moon, early September’s moon name reflects the crops that were ready for harvest around this time. It’s also known as the Falling Leaves Moon and the Nut Moon.

Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduced In Florida

Just days after the eastern indigo snake was reintroduced in Florida, one of the newly free reptiles was spotted devouring a copperhead snake. That’s not a surprise since this snake’s favorite food is other snakes.

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Lots of people don’t like the sinuous reptiles and might wonder why we would want more of them anywhere. But all types of snakes serve important ecological functions — and most of them are nonvenomous and aren’t a threat to humans.

In fact, indigo snakes are an essential component of the Southeast’s longleaf pine habitat. That’s because they’re an apex species, which means they sit at the top of the food chain, affecting how well the animals and plants below fare. But due to habitat loss and fragmentation, the last eastern indigo snake spotted in northern Florida was in 1982.

Ensuring apex predators like the eastern indigo snake are able to do their important snake-y duties to keep their habitats balanced is imperative to ensuring that preserved lands are robust and healthy for all inhabitants.

This homecoming is first of many

The reintroduction took place at The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, and this release is the start of a 10-year commitment to annual releases — that means over the next decade, more eastern indigo snakes will be released each year. The preserve covers over 6,200 acres of land in northern Florida’s Liberty County and includes longleaf pine landscape and other environmentally important features, like steephead ravines and streams, which lead to the Apalachicola River. The preserve lies in the center of “one of five biological hotspots in North America,” according to The Nature Conservancy.

You may have heard about the importance of the longleaf pine ecosystem before — it’s one of the most diverse in the world, though only 5 percent of its original lands remain intact. Due to the number and type of species that thrive in this landscape, it’s home to a high number of threatened plants and animals. The good news is that restoration has been possible, and both private and public landowners have preserved more than 100,000 acres so far.

“The eastern indigo snake has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1978, and today’s release is an important milestone in our efforts toward recovering this important reptile,” said Cindy Dohner, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in a release.

The eastern indigo snake is so-named because in the sunshine, its scales do indeed look dark blue. The snake grows to be up to 8 or 9 feet long, making it the United States’ longest native snake. While today its range is restricted and occurs in patches here and there, historically, the snake’s range included “… the southernmost tip of South Carolina west through southern Georgia, Alabama, into eastern Mississippi, and throughout Florida,” according to The Nature Conservancy.

A large number of people and organizations came together to make this reintroduction happen, and they’ll continue to make the eastern indigo snake reintroduction a success.

How Hurricanes Are Named (And Why)

Some of the most notorious villains in American history are known by only one name. From Betsy and Camille to Katrina, Ike and Sandy, their legacies are so etched into our collective memory that it only takes a few syllables to recall the terrible days these hurricanes made landfall.

But where do hurricane names come from? Why do we give human names to violent, mindless masses of water and wind? And how do we all agree which name to use? The practice dates back to the 1950s, although people have been naming tropical cyclones for centuries.

Before the 1940s, only the worst storms were given names, usually based on the place or time of year they made landfall: There was the Sea Islands Hurricane of 1893, the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the Miami Hurricane of 1926 and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, to name a few. Scientists and forecasters often assigned unofficial numbers to tropical cyclones — Tropical Storm One, Hurricane Two, etc. — but the practice of using more memorable and relatable names didn’t begin until 1950.

That was the first year when Atlantic tropical cyclones received official names, although they still weren’t human ones. These initial names were taken from the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet, so the 1950 season featured such bizarrely named storms as Hurricane Dog, Hurricane Easy, Hurricane Jig, Hurricane Item and Hurricane Love. There was also a Tropical Storm How in early October.

This tradition continued for two years, but it had a glaring flaw: The same list of names was recycled every year, so the 1950-’52 seasons each featured a Hurricane Able through at least Hurricane Fox. That became confusing, so in 1953 the U.S. National Hurricane Center began using female human names, which proved far more successful. Not only did it make storm identification easier, but it helped authorities and news outlets spread warnings — and helped the public pay attention to them.

“[N]ames are presumed to be far easier to remember than numbers and technical terms,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) explains on its website. “Many agree that appending names to storms makes it easier for the media to report on tropical cyclones, heightens interest in warnings and increases community preparedness.”

The first hurricane names were often inspired by forecasters’ wives, but in 1979 men’s names were added to the mix. The WMO now oversees the master list of names, which alternates between male and female; six lists are rotated annually in the Atlantic, so the 2015 names will be used again in 2021. But when a cyclone is bad enough, its name can be retired to honor victims and survivors. Seventy-eight Atlantic hurricane names have been retired since 1954, including 29 since 2000. Among the most infamous retired hurricane names are Audrey (1957), Betsy (1965), Camille (1969), Hugo (1989), Andrew (1992), Ivan (2004), Katrina (2005), Ike (2008), Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012).

Here are the names for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC):

  • Arlene
  • Bret
  • Cindy
  • Don
  • Emily
  • Franklin
  • Gert
  • Harvey
  • Irma
  • Jose
  • Katia
  • Lee
  • Maria
  • Nate
  • Ophelia
  • Philippe
  • Rina
  • Sean
  • Tammy
  • Vince
  • Whitney

The season for tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean is generally the same, although it officially begins May 15 in the Eastern Pacific. Naming Pacific cyclones is often more complex than in the Atlantic, with different lists for the Eastern, Central and Western Pacific, as well as for Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the North Indian Ocean and the Southwest Indian Ocean. See the NHC’s list of Pacific storm names for more info.

Category 5 Hurricane Irma Packs 180-MPH Winds, Takes Aim At Florida

“Hurricane Irma has intensified into an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane,” the National Hurricane Center says, citing the latest data from NOAA and Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft.

With maximum sustained winds of 180 mph, Irma is a Category 5 — the most serious type of major hurricane on the Saffir-Sampson wind scale.

Irma is the strongest hurricane the NHC has ever recorded in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the agency says.

Storm preparations are being rushed to completion in the Leeward Islands, where the first tropical-storm force winds could arrive later Tuesday. Irma is currently forecast to hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday before continuing on toward the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

The storm will bring “life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall,” the federal agency says.

While it’s still too early to say where Irma might have the most impact on the continental United States, the hurricane center says, “There is an increasing chance of seeing some impacts from Irma in the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys later this week and this weekend.”

Irma is predicted to maintain winds of at least 150 mph for the next five days.

Long-range forecast models are “in strong agreement on a sharp northward turn on Sunday morning,” says Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

The exact timing of that right-hand turn is still unknown, McNoldy adds — outlining a variable that he says will have “huge implications” for people in Florida. Depending on when it occurs, Irma’s turn north could send the storm up either of Florida’s coasts, or through its center.

“Irma is an extremely impressive hurricane in both infrared and visible satellite images,” the National Hurricane Center says, noting its distinct eye that is 25-30 miles wide.

The storm is moving westward at 14 mph, forcing hurricane warnings to be issued for a string of Caribbean islands:

  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra
  • Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis
  • Saba, St. Eustatius and Sint Maarten
  • Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy
  • British Virgin Islands

A hurricane watch has been declared in a number of areas, including the Turks and Caicos and the northern coast of Haiti.

Category 5 status means “catastrophic” damage will occur on lands touched by the hurricane, which is currently predicted to remain a major hurricane as it makes its way west toward the U.S. coast.

As the storm’s track has become more defined, the governors of Florida and Puerto Rico declared preemptive states of emergency.

As NPR’s Scott Neuman reported:

” ‘We have established protocols for the safety of all,’ Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said, urging islanders to take precautions.

“Rossello said 4 to 8 inches of rain were expected, with wind gusts up to 60 mph.

“A few hours later, Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in all 67 counties in the state.”

Here’s how the hurricane center describes the damage that could result from a Category 5 hurricane:

“A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

Rick Scott Declares State of Emergency as Hurricane Irma Approaches

As Houston tries picking up the pieces a little more than a week after Hurricane Harvey, Florida is preparing for the worst as Hurricane Irma appears on the horizon. Florida governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday following the news that Irma grew to a category 4 with a maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. Irma is projected to make contact with South Florida over the weekend.

“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared. I have continued to be briefed by the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Hurricane Irma and current forecast models have Florida in Irma’s path – potentially impacting millions of Floridians,” Gov. Scott said in a statement. “Today, given these forecasts and the intensity of this storm, I have declared a state of emergency for every county in Florida to make certain that state, federal and local governments are able to work together and make sure resources are dispersed to local communities as we get prepared for this storm.”

Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico, also declared a state of emergency and has called on the National Guard.

With Irma expected to only grow in strength over the next few days, it could become the biggest hurricane to make landfall in South Florida since Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 storm, in 1992. Meteorologist Ryan Maue reports that there’s a more than 50 percent chance Florida will be hit by a category 4 or 5 Irma.

Why Can’t We Figure Out Flood Prevention?

August brings poignance to the politics of floodwater management in low-lying cities along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the anniversary of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that triggered the second-most catastrophic engineering failure in human history. (The collapse of the New Orleans levee system is exceeded only by the Chernobyl reactor meltdown of 1986 in the annals of man-made fiascos.)This past weekend, Texas found itself in the crosshairs. Harvey’s winds petered out fairly quickly after the system made landfall Friday night—the Category 4 hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm—but the storm then squatted mercilessly in place to dump staggering amounts of rain. Up to 50 inches were predicted in some areas before week’s end.

For Texas, the measure of dysfunction was a failure to coordinate evacuation orders. A climate-change denier, Governor Greg Abbott nevertheless urged everyone to get out of harm’s way. But Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, remembering the catastrophic, sometimes lethal, traffic jams associated with past evacuation efforts, said not so fast. Rockport Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Rios told constituents who failed to leave town to write their names on their bodies with Sharpie pens so coroners would be able to identify their corpses.

Notwithstanding this version of the Texas two-step, the state seems to be faring better than Louisiana did during the Katrina/Rita double whammy of 2005, though there are some depressing similarities: splintered buildings, biblical floods, and images of residents trapped on rooftops. The Astrodome, haunted as it is by eerie memories for the New Orleanians who fled to it for shelter from Katrina, saw service again, this time for local residents. Yes, Rockport was battered and the high school lost its roof. But Harvey had taken fewer than a half-dozen lives as of Monday morning—compared with Katrina’s death toll of about 1,800.The New Orleans floods earlier in the month weren’t even associated with a hurricane, just an incredible amount of rainfall: close to 10 inches in three hours. But as Texas served to remind us three weeks later, it’s time the Gulf got used to rainfall events of an intensity that the National Weather Service calls “unimaginable.”

Here’s what’s most concerning. Rather than radically reassess our relationship to storms and high water, something we vowed to do after Katrina, New Orleans reverted to form and began casting about for scapegoats and squabbling angrily over pump failures that flooded Mid-City and the Lakefront area.

We seem to be lapsing back into the careless, won’t-happen-here attitude that turned Katrina—a storm that was only mid-sized at landfall—into a lethal catastrophe.

Global warming’s to blame. No, it was Sewerage & Water Board honcho Joe Becker with his lies about pump capacity in a city that’s half below sea level and utterly dependent on those pumps to drain itself. No, the rainfall amounts were simply off the charts—no system could keep up with them. The pump maintenance budget is underfunded. Catch basins weren’t cleaned. Mayor Landrieu should have rushed back more quickly from his conference in Aspen. To do what? Bail out the city with a bucket?

How quickly we seem to be lapsing back into the careless, won’t-happen-here attitude that turned Katrina, a storm that was only mid-sized at landfall, into a lethal catastrophe. After that ordeal, vigilance was declared a civic responsibility. Katrina had shamed government leadership at several levels, not just in the Bush White House, and we citizens bore a good bit of responsibility ourselves.

Achieving “resilience”—a favorite buzzword of various foundations that came down here after Katrina to save us from ourselves—has become a call to arms, albeit a sometimes vague and empty one.But after a dozen years and billions of dollars spent shoring up New Orleans’s flood defenses, we are not resilient. Get with it, New Orleans. And the same scolding can be extended to the Texas officials who failed to work out coordinated messaging on evacuation.

Cities and states cannot reverse climate change on their own—though we would be fools not to do our part in stride with thinking people around the world. Kudos to Mayor Landrieu for defying the Trump administration and pledging support for the Paris accords. Kudos to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards for ending his predecessor’s obscene and craven pandering to the oil interests who ravaged our coast and now must be made to pay the piper. And Houston, however misguided the recommendation to shelter in place over the past weekend, has also been at the forefront of this awakening to reality: It is one of 10 American metropolises that have joined New Orleans in the global Large Cities Climate Leadership Group. (The others are Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle, members of a consortium that now extends to 58 cities around the world.)

For New Orleans, whose below-sea-level position makes it particularly imperiled, the August floods were a reminder of something we should take much more seriously than we have. We ought to apply more aggressively the lessons we claimed to be learning from the Dutch after Katrina. It’s a course of action that would amount to a sea change in how we approach the wet threat that surrounds us on every side.

We need to get as smart and wily about water as Rotterdam. New Orleans’s continued viability as a population center and commercial hub depends on it. We must learn to live with water, to absorb rainfall and storm surge in massive retention facilities, to designate greenspaces that double as parks. We need to stop paving our yards to make nifty little pads for the family car. We need to build absorbent rooftop gardens on as many buildings as can be put to that purpose.God knows enough city and civic leaders and journalists enjoyed post-Katrina junkets that took us to Holland to observe their very different approach to water management. Many of the Dutch nostrums have been championed by our more enlightened environmentalists, architects, and city planners. And the Dutch are no slouches when it comes to coastal defenses. They have not settled, as we did, for levees strong enough to resist “100-year storms.” They have fortified their North Sea shores against weather events expected once in 10,000 years. That’s a system 100 times more “robust” than ours, to use another fashionable buzzword.

>While our pumps and levees must be in tip-top condition at all times, we cannot pump our way to safety. We cannot wall out the water.

The fundamental shift would be to realize that, while our pumps and levees must be in tip-top condition at all times, we cannot pump our way to safety. We cannot wall out the water. The August 5 flood in New Orleans made a mockery of our unilateral obsession with water barriers. The enemy was within the levees, not outside of them.

What do we have to show for our official genuflections toward Holland? A little. Very little. We have re-opened Bayou St. John to a more natural confluence with Lake Pontchartrain. We have created the Lafitte Greenway, a prototype of something that should be done with every canal basin and batture in the region. Now and again a building goes up that can be celebrated for embodying what might be called Dutch treats: rooftop plantings, an unpaved courtyard.

Why are we building tracks for tourist trolleys in New Orleans instead of widening our neutral grounds to maximize their potential as green space? As Texas saw over the weekend, Houston’s signature ribbons of concrete make nifty riverbeds just when you might most urgently wish you could use them to escape the city in a bus or the family car. To Houston’s credit, it has a good record of creating and preserving parklands within the city over the past century. Unfortunately, that dynamic has been more than offset by explosive development and the paving of former pasturelands that once absorbed area rainfall.

New Orleans is spending $3 billion to redo the streets, with a third of that money dedicated to putting giant concrete tunnels under key arteries to convey water out of sight and out of the city, notes David Waggonner. Waggonner is the New Orleans architect who initiated the so-called Dutch Dialogues that brought expertise from the Netherlands to post-Katrina New Orleans. In his view, it is crucial that we pivot from the old paradigm—“pave, pipe, and pump”—and instead begin to “slow and store” water, pumping only as necessary. Reducing storm water to drainage—essentially equating it with sewerage—is “a perverse exclusion of opportunity,” Waggonner believes, especially in light of the worsening subsidence problems induced by excessive and continual pumping. Preliminary calculations indicate that even doubling the city’s pumping capacity would correct less than half the problem.Following the Dutch Dialogues, Waggonner led creation of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, a multi-parish blueprint that looked at available public parcels and rights of way to reduce flooding and add value. The Lafitte Greenway, a part of the plan, has been used for some storm water management and flood reduction purposes, though not as profoundly as would the larger “blueway” Waggonner and the Dutch called for.

The Water Plan was central to the city’s subsequent prize-winning entry in the National Disaster Resilience Competition. Focused on the Gentilly Resilience District, the proposal backs selected development projects aimed at creating a more varied water system. It should also be a more visible system, says Waggonner, not one buried beneath city streets. That’s how you engage residents and other stakeholders in the mission that Waggonner and allies in the Water Collaborative, a nonprofit advocacy group, call “living with water.”Bottom line: Waggonner sees smart water management as a way to upgrade public safety and induce investment in New Orleans. “If we want to live here,” he says, “we better figure this out.”

Amid the administrative disarray so flagrantly apparent in the aftermath of the August flood and power station fire, I cling to one narrow basis for cautious optimism. It’s this: While Becker’s initial flurry of misleading statements about the condition and functionality of the pumping system was disgusting, it was reassuring to see that the mayor and the City Council were having none of it. At the mayor’s behest, Becker and others at the water board are now on their way out the door.

As the Dutch made clear to Times reporter Michael Kimmelman, their revolution in water management isn’t just a burden shouldered grudgingly by a low-lying nation. It’s an exciting challenge, a source of pride—and a source of money. Exportable water management ideas are to the Netherlands as cheese and wine are to the French, Kimmelman quipped.

The Netherlands is pioneering—and, where possible, marketing—insights, attitudes, and technologies in demand around the world as weather worsens and seas rise. There’s an irony here. A hundred years ago, when the New Orleans pumping system was considered an engineering marvel, it was the Dutch who came to us in search of guidance. Their version of Katrina was the horrific 1953 inundation that made water management a national purpose of existential urgency. They turned disaster into a much more trenchant learning experience than we have.

We could be part of that engineering and commercial juggernaut. In a sense we are—but so far, our role is that of the coal-mine canary. We are a city that should be augmenting public safety by implementing the new water-management paradigm. The Dutch build purposely leaky levees and marvelous parks alongside massive flood gates attuned to the rhythm of the clouds and seas.