Hurricane season already causing devastation in many East Coast communities

Up and down the East Coast, many residents and business owners are trying to figure out what to do now that hurricane season has officially begun, but there is little hope for an end to the occasional summer downpours and block-long lines at the local supermarket. The typical high-impact hurricane season—which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30—intensifies with jet-stream winds that blow from west to east.

This season’s potential won’t be helped by climate change. High winds and rain have already affected at least one major city in the East, causing flooding to occur in Philadelphia and (in New York, but not yet in Florida) caused damages of more than $1 billion. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a below-average hurricane season this year, while AccuWeather predicts a near-normal season.

In Maryland, the central Chesapeake Bay has seen run-off in the amount of rainfall and runoff (this week’s deluge in Baltimore may have risen water levels in the bay to a dozen feet) and says it is a problem that “varies from year to year.” Two years ago, the Chesapeake Bay Institute released a “State of the Bay Report” that estimated more than 4,000 tons of sediment was released into the Bay each year as a result of heavy rain and flooding, along with 2.4 billion gallons of water.

On this part of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which deals with significant flooding from rapid spring snow melt and groundwater infrastructure, residents continue to look forward to more rains because this year’s spring winter rainfall was more than what the area typically receives in a year, with much of it falling as rain.

The main difference from decades past has been that Hurricane Katrina hasn’t been forecasted as an area of concern, because the prediction models don’t predict an increase in sea levels due to climate change. The Peninsula Naval Air Station and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia are being watched. On July 4, while much of the Eastern Shore was being drenched in rains and flooding, the Naval Air Station on Virginia Beach, which is in hurricane territory, remained dry. But if those storms had targeted Virginia Beach, Naval Station Norfolk or Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which are located along the Outer Banks, their damage could have been much more severe.

Meanwhile, many east coast officials are increasingly focused on coastal flooding during high tides and snow slides, more commonly known as “snowplows,” that occurs when a mountain is snowed on. Last year, the Delaware Governor’s Office of Homeland Security issued a warning about flooding caused by high-tide flooding at Delaware beaches. Additionally, the Carolinas are planning for a northward snowmass from the Gulf of Mexico due to changing weather patterns, including a stronger El Niño this year.

Coastal flooding in Virginia

Nationwide, 90 deaths were attributed to flooding in the month of April 2015, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and heavy rainfall is likely to continue as more storm systems approach from the west.

Maryland, New Jersey and New York are doing more to prepare for the high-impact summer storms and flooding that could hit. Around the time of the announcement by the National Weather Service in May that the Atlantic Coast would see more frequent “cyclonic” storms and heavy rainfall, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a plan for Maryland to spend millions of dollars upgrading public infrastructure to make it flood-proof. Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has allocated $4 million to improve water and wastewater infrastructure there.

These funds are important because most storms don’t cause as much damage as previous ones did. After Hurricane Sandy, New York City paid out more than $2 billion to its flood victims.

However, Sandy gave some communities a deeper understanding of how difficult preparing for high-impact storms can be. The Greater Washington Waterfront Development Authority established a stormwater management plan in 2013, and even the low-lying Delaware Bay communities spent money building pump stations and backwater valves, eliminating the threat of flooding before major storms.

And, despite the risk and discomfort of living in high-impact flooding regions, experts warn of the benefits that come from having a local government willing to help implement the local plans.

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