We have known about climate change for years, so why are we not more prepared for climate disasters?

The atmospheric river that deluged San Diego last week followed close on the heels of enormous waves that punished the California coast at the beginning of the year, with both weather events setting off alarms in more ways than one. Beachgoers and property owners have received deadly reminders about the dangers of riptides and flooding, and Californians again have been put on notice that climate change is making rare weather events much more common.

The threat consists of more than just a few days of heavy rain and destructive surf, as we learned throughout last year. The recurring hurricane season from June to November usually is dismissed by Californians, who tend to believe our region is safe from the catastrophic storms seen on the East and Southern coasts. In 2023, we saw that hurricane-strength storms are no longer confined to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Climate change is altering major storms’ nature, intensity, and locations. Warmer waters off our coast now foster conditions conducive to major storms previously unseen here. Although freak events like the holiday waves can strike anytime, major storms typically hit during the May-September dry season and can severely impact an area unaccustomed to such heavy rainfall.

A significant example occurred in August when Southern California faced its first-ever tropical storm watch, which escalated to a warning from the approaching Tropical Storm Hilary. While a tropical storm event is out of the ordinary, it’s no longer out of the question as our climate changes, ocean temperatures rise, and storm intensity increases.

Hilary “shattered” rainfall records in Los Angeles, as reported by KNBC, with some areas receiving nearly 11 inches of rain. The Coachella Valley, a desert region in Riverside County, was significantly impacted by flooding, particularly in Palm Desert. Swift water rescue teams, comprised of expertly trained professionals, were pivotal in managing the crisis and rescuing people from the escalating floodwaters.

Nearby, in Mexico, Hurricane Lidia rapidly intensified from a tropical storm to a category 4 hurricane on the same day, surprising both authorities and residents. The storm caused substantial damage and loss of life, including killing two people, and destroying property at Puerta Vallarta.

It’s time to shed the notion that the West Coast is safe from the destructive power of hurricane-strength storms. These storms, distinct from the earthquakes, mudslides, and wildfires we’re used to, will likely become more frequent as our climate changes. Thus, our approach to disaster preparedness must also evolve.

Fortunately, Southern Californians are adept at emergency preparedness, with many existing tactics and tools applicable to storm preparation. Our early warning systems are effective, and emergency plans can be revised to account for hurricane-specific scenarios, including altered evacuation routes and shelter locations. Additionally, standard supply kits can be enhanced with waterproof items.

While individual preparedness can adapt swiftly, community-level preparedness efforts need significant modification to respond to these new threats effectively.

Public awareness regarding the evolving climate and its potential impact on Southern California is crucial. Collaborative efforts from businesses, NGOs, and government agencies can establish educational programs and outreach initiatives, equipping residents with essential knowledge for facing hurricane threats.

Investment in resilient infrastructure is also essential. We must focus on enhancing drainage systems and implementing flood mitigation strategies, leveraging state and federal resources for resilience.

Community cooperation and support are more vital than ever. In the face of shared threats, we must unite in our preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. Neighborhood plans should encourage residents to support each other, especially vulnerable groups, during emergencies. Establishing resource centers in communities can facilitate effective communication and distribution of resources during crises.

As Southern California confronts the reality of massive waves and hurricane-strength storms, proactive and united efforts are imperative. The 2024 hurricane season is already on the horizon, and the time to prepare is now. Let’s unite as a community to build resilience and readiness for the challenges ahead.

Original source: https://timesofsandiego.com

Climate change is ravaging the earth faster than scientists had predicted