While South Carolina and the nation have been focused on coronavirus – and more recently the protests regarding George Floyd and others – hurricane season is in full swing. In fact, in the weeks before hurricane season officially started, two named storms – Arthur and Bertha – tracked near South Carolina, bringing heavy rains and tropical storm force winds.
If these early storms fueled by a changing climate and warming ocean waters are a sign of what’s to come, we could be in for a tough year weather-wise. Unfortunately, the additional challenges posed by coronavirus could make this hurricane season even more dangerous.
In a change from past actions, FEMA has come out with guidance that actually discourages evacuation from some hurricane zones. Contributing to this recommendation is the concern that commodities like toilet paper and sanitizers are more limited, fewer inland shelters and/or hotels are open, less space is available at inland shelters and hotels because of social distancing policies, additional timing is needed for evacuations because of social distancing and temperature checks for coronavirus, and more.
In fact, FEMA is only recommending that folks who live in a mandatory evacuation zone actually evacuate this hurricane season. And, on top of that, they’re recommending that these folks shelter with friends and family rather than in shelters or hotels.
This hurricane season we run the risk of South Carolinians having to choose between weathering a potentially dangerous storm in their homes or risking exposure to a dangerous virus as they evacuate. These are not choices that any person wants to make – or that any leader wants to recommend.
Of course, FEMA’s suggestions are just guidance for state and local emergency management officials. It will be up to our leaders to determine what actions must be taken and when to protect the public health – both from hurricanes and from the coronavirus. Thankfully, we’ve seen decisive action in South Carolina around both hurricane response and COVID response in the past, and I anticipate that we’ll see the same this year.
This year of a “perfect storm” of dangerous scenarios, however, flags that we must begin to look to the future and ask how we become more resilient in the face of a changing climate with stronger, more destructive, and more expensive storms.
We know that ocean temperatures are higher and that our recent summers are the hottest in recorded history. We’ve seen the devastation that hurricanes and floodwaters inflict on our homes, communities, and businesses.
South Carolina’s leaders have a critical role in improving infrastructure to prepare for the future challenges. If you can see a speeding train coming down the tracks, it makes sense to take action, move yourself out of the way, and avoid damages instead of dealing with consequences later. Now is the time to be proactive on this issue because we cannot afford to be reactive. This is the mindset our leaders must have in preparing the state for challenges posed by a changing climate, too – making the right changes in our infrastructure now or facing expensive consequences in the future that we know could have been avoided.
Our economy, our community and our property are at risk without our leaders properly preparing for our changing reality. With the right planning, we can get the right tools in the right hands to insulate South Carolina from storm impacts as best we can and protect our beautiful state and its people for generations to come.
Joe Bowers is a candidate for Charleston County Soil and Water District Commission.