The 2017 hurricane season has begun, as always, with the uncertainty of where, when and whether a strong storm might hit.
But this year there are some additional unknowns. How they are addressed will be an indication of whether we have learned anything since Hurricane Andrew strafed this community 25 years ago. On Aug. 24, 1992, Andrew slammed into southern Miami-Dade with such force it changed us forever.
Ironically, this year’s storm season began on the same day President Trump petulantly pulled the United States out of the Paris Accord — a misguided move that puts this country, South Florida, in particular, at grave risk of the ravages of sea-level rise and pollution.
Scientists warn that warmer oceans will result in more frequent and intense hurricanes. Those hurricanes could slam into Florida coastal cities unprepared for the effects of climate change.
Fortunately, South Florida, in many ways, has been out in front on addressing the issue, with Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin and Commissioner Rebeca Sosa taking the lead in recent years to ensure that the region can stand up to what’s coming. And though Mayor Carlos Gimenez remained mum about the wisdom of pulling out of the Paris Accord, he, too, has been an advocate of resiliency.
They and others are clear that should we fail to brace ourselves, for a hurricane in the short term, and climate change in the long term, massive flooding could lead to salt water intrusion in the Florida Everglades, a scenario that could ruin the River of Grass’ intricate and life-giving system. And that’s the least of it.
Too bad the same can’t be said for Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott or the president he supports.
Trump’s proposed budget targets FEMA, which provides disaster relief, and NOAA, which, among its many responsibilities, conducts hurricane research. Keep in mind, Trump has been derelict in even appointing anyone to lead either currently leaderless agency. The National Hurricane Center’s budget would shrink from $514 million to $400 million; FEMA would lose $667 million. The good news, however, is that those funds would help build that misbegotten wall at the border.
But when it comes to Trump’s budget, the key word here is “proposed.” It is imperative that all of Florida’s lawmakers in Congress, along with those whose states are whipped-sawed by tornadoes, blackened by wildfires and submerged when mighty rivers overflow get real, push back, and say No.
Scott put a smiley face on the cuts during a Miami press conference: “FEMA has been a really good partner.” Yes, and?
Among those concerned about the impact to our region is South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
In an article on Monday’s Opinion page, she says that the president, “by refusing to fight climate change, and stripping the resources needed to address its effects, is delivering a one-two gut punch to South Floridians.”
Unfortunately, our governor seems far less concerned. Still, Scott said the state is proposing spending $200 million to speed up the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ repair of aging dikes around Lake Okeechobee, which could be damaged if a powerful hurricane hits the area. Many Florida lawmakers are opposed to such funding. That’s not good, we need more protection from the ravages of climate change.
And all this is playing out as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an above-average hurricane season this year.