Hurricane Michael Threatens Gulf Coast Homes and Military Bases

October 9, 2018 | 2:21 pm
Kristy Dahl
Principal Climate Scientist

After a summer of scorching heat waves, deadly wildfires, flooding, flooding, and more flooding, we were weary. Fall’s bitter battle for the Supreme Court brought us not a refreshing crispness, but a renewed sense of the brittle fragility of the bonds that hold our country together.

And now, emotionally wrung out, we’re watching as Hurricane Michael rapidly gains strength on its way toward the Florida Panhandle. Using the most recent storm surge prediction for Michael—released by NOAA at 11 am Eastern today—and property level data provided by Zillow, our preliminary analysis indicates that nearly 50,000 coastal properties are at risk of storm surge inundation, though many more could be affected by flash flooding and heavy rain throughout the southeast.

Three of the region’s critical military installations—Tyndall, and Macdill Air Force Bases and Naval Support Activity Panama City—are also at risk, with 22, 19, and 13 percent of their usable land area predicted to flood from storm surge, respectively, according to our calculations. While only 1 percent of Eglin Air Force Base is predicted to flood with Hurricane Michael, many routine operations on the base have been suspended and the installation’s facilities on Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Islands are particularly at risk. These bases are supported by thousands of military and civilian personnel who will likely be drawn in to the response to and recovery from Michael.

So Panhandle residents cannot afford to be weary, as now is the time to heed the warnings of local officials, to make any final preparations ahead of the storm.

But nor can storm-tormented residents of the Carolinas afford to be weary, because recovery efforts from Hurricane Florence in September have barely begun and Michael threatens to bring yet another round of heavy rain. Dozens of roads and bridges in South Carolina are still closed because of the storm. Hundreds of people remain in shelters in North Carolina, and many more are unable to return home. Final data on the extent of Florence’s flooding only became available last week, and I hadn’t even finished my blog post about it before it was time for the next storm.

Puerto Ricans cannot afford to be weary either. Though electricity was restored—it took a full nine months after Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017–homes remain shockingly unlivable, and it’s clear that rebuilding will be a long and difficult process. Beyond the physical and financial difficulty of rebuilding, the ongoing fight for recognition of needs, of lives lost, and of rights, requires an emotional strength beyond that normally required of storm victims. Mental health struggles persist and deepen.

In the Florida Keys, efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Irma in September 2017 have recently ramped up. With the recognition that some residents and business owners are struggling to recover, Monroe County just launched its Rebuild Florida initiative and has had a bus-turned-resource center touring the Keys to help manage the cases of people whose homes were destroyed. So no, the residents and local leaders of the Florida Keys cannot yet afford to be weary.

In Houston, while 70 percent of those whose homes sustained damage during Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 report that their lives are “largely or almost back to normal,” 30 percent report that their lives are still disrupted. With 40 percent of affected residents overall saying that they aren’t getting the help they need and even higher percentages of black and low-income residents saying the same, it’s clear that while those with more resources are on their way to recovery, those with fewer resources are not. While some Houstonians may be able safely and comfortably watch Michael unfold on a different stretch of the Gulf Coast, others are still living with relatives or in just a single room of their homes.

And back in North Carolina, the Raleigh-based News & Observer reported on September 4th of this year that “Money for families who lost their homes in Hurricane Matthew [in 2016] has finally started trickling into North Carolina,” almost two years after the storm brought devastating floods to the state. When that article was published, Hurricane Florence was less than two weeks away from flooding many of the same areas that were hit hard by Matthew.

There is no rest for the weary.

Inside a flood zone or out, inside the wildland-urban interface or out, inside an urban heat island or out, we as Americans, and, really, as humans, cannot afford to be weary. Because if there’s one thing that the latest IPCC Special Report, released this past weekend, makes clear, it’s that the climate-related challenges we face are only expected to deepen.