Drenching rain hits Big Island as hurricane approaches
By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
Thursday, August 23
HONOLULU (AP) — As emergency shelters opened, rain began to pour and cellphone alerts went out — and the approaching hurricane started to feel real for Hawaii residents.
Hurricane Lane was forecast to continue its northwest turn into the islands Thursday, which would make it the most powerful storm to hit Hawaii since Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
“Everyone is starting to buckle down at this point,” said Christyl Nagao of Kauai. “Our families are here. We have businesses and this and that. You just have to man your fort and hold on tight.”
Officials opened shelters on the Big Island and on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai on Wednesday. They urged those needing the Molokai shelter to get there soon because of concerns the main highway on the south coast of the island could become impassable.
On the island of Oahu, which was put on a hurricane warning late Wednesday, shelters were scheduled to open Thursday. Officials were also working to help Hawaii’s sizeable homeless population, many of whom live near beaches and streams that could flood.
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Tom Travis said there’s not enough shelter space statewide and advised those who not in flood zones to stay home.
Officials warned the limited shelter space should be a “last resort” and that the shelters are not designed to withstand winds greater than about 40 mph (64 kph).
“Whenever possible, the public should plan to shelter in place or stay with family or friends in homes outside of these hazard areas that were designed, built, or renovated to withstand anticipated conditions,” the city and county of Honolulu said in a statement.
Hurricanes are ranked 1 to 5 according to what is known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Hurricane Lane is at Category 4, which means winds from 130 to 156 mph (209 to 251 kph).
The Big Island was already starting to see Lane’s first effects, Gov. David Ige said at a news conference Wednesday.
The hurricane’s outer rain bands were bringing showers to some parts of the island, said Matt Foster, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The eastern side of the island picked up nearly 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) of rain in three hours, Foster said.
Melanie Davis, who lives in a suburb outside Honolulu, said she was gathering canned food and baby formula.
“We’re getting some bags of rice and of course, some Spam,” she said of the canned lunch meat that’s popular in Hawaii.
She was organizing important documents into a folder — birth and marriage certificates, Social Security cards, insurance paperwork — and making sure her three children, all under 4, have flotation devices such as swimming vests “just in case.”
Public schools were closed for the rest of the week and local government workers were told to stay home unless they’re essential employees.
Meteorologist Chevy Chevalier said Lane may weaken to a Category 3 by Thursday afternoon but that would still be a major hurricane.
“We expect it to gradually weaken as it gets closer to the islands,” Chevalier said. “That being said, on our current forecast, as of the afternoon on Thursday, we still have it as a major hurricane.”
The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with about only four or five named storms a year. Hawaii rarely gets hit. The last major storm to hit was Iniki in 1992. Others have come close in recent years.
“We’re planning on boarding up all our windows and sliding doors,” Napua Puaoi of Wailuku, Maui, said after buying plywood from Home Depot. “As soon as my husband comes home — he has all the power tools.”
Puaoi was 12 when Iniki hit Hawaii.
“When it did happen, I just remember, pandemonium, it was all out craziness,” she said.
Unlike Florida or Texas, where residents can get in their cars and drive hundreds of miles to safety, people in Hawaii are confined to the islands ad must stay put. They have to make sure they have enough supplies to outlast prolonged power outages and other potential emergencies.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has several barges with food, water and supplies that it moved into the region ahead of Hurricane Hector, which skirted past the islands more than a week ago, according to FEMA Administrator Brock Long.
The U.S. Navy was moving its ships and submarines out of Hawaii. All vessels not currently undergoing maintenance were being positioned to help respond after the storm, if needed.
President Donald J. Trump issued a disaster declaration Wednesday, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate disaster relief efforts with the state.
Associated Press journalists Mark Thiessen and Dan Joling in Anchorage, Alaska, and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.
A year after Hurricane Harvey, some Texans are using outdated flood risk maps to rebuild
August 23, 2018
Assistant Professor of Geography, University of Alabama
Wanyun Shao receives funding from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Gulf Research Program.
One year ago, on August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck Texas – the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Wilma in 2005. Harvey dumped record-breaking rain and flooded hundreds of thousands of homes in and around Houston. It caused some US$125 billion in damages, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
But human choices played a role. Before Harvey, Houston was widely known as a model of unchecked urban development. With no formal zoning or comprehensive plan, developers were allowed to turn virtually any land, including wetlands, into houses and shopping malls. The National Flood Insurance Program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), unintentionally encouraged intense development by offering coverage in flood-prone areas at below-cost rates.
Harvey’s impacts in Houston provide an ideal case study for unsustainable human-environment interaction. After last year’s flooding, it would be logical to expect affected communities to rethink long-term hazard management and risk reduction.
In fact, I see the opposite happening. In just one example, officials in the city of Friendswood (part of greater Houston) are allowing some residents to rebuild their homes based on outdated flood risk maps that greatly underestimate the risk of future floods. This avoids requirements such as elevating houses and buying flood insurance. I believe choosing to rely on faulty information, driven by short-term financial concerns, will increase long-term risks for many Houstonians.
The message of FEMA flood maps
Much discussion about the troubled National Flood Insurance Program has centered on its artificially low premiums. FEMA’s flood risk maps receive less attention, but are a powerful risk communication tool.
FEMA produces these maps for more than 20,000 communities that participate in the insurance program. They determine insurance rates, inform local regulations and communicate risks to communities
On the maps, Special Flood Hazard Areas identify zones with a one percent chance of flooding in any given year. Since this translates to 100 percent odds of flooding at least once in a century, these areas often are referred to as 100-year flood zones (creating the misleading impression that they will only flood once a century). Homeowners there must buy flood insurance in order to qualify for federally regulated or guaranteed loans.
Using surveys and geographic data, I have shown that flood maps significantly affect voluntary decisions to purchase flood insurance. Working with other social scientists and engineers, I found that people who live in communities with a large percentage of 100-year flood zones are more likely to buy flood insurance, even when they are not required to do so.
How do these maps convey risk? Using websites such as Floodsmart.gov, users can view the flood maps and see threats to their properties and surrounding areas. FEMA also works with local governments to educate residents about flood risks. A civil engineer who worked for the city of Huntsville, Alabama told me that he used the maps to point out relative risks to homeowners:
“I’ll say, ‘Do you have flood insurance? You don’t have to – your house isn’t in [a 100-year flood zone] – but you do have one-percent annual chance floodplain on the back of your property. It’s close to where you are, so you have more risk of flooding than somebody further away.’”
When homeowners elevate or flood-proof their homes or purchase flood insurance, they may also influence neighbors to take similar steps.
Some Houstonians who are not required to elevate their homes are choosing to do so.
Undercutting FEMA’s message
FEMA’s maps can be a double-edged sword. If they are inaccurate, they may mislead users.
And the maps have widely-recognized flaws. They do a poor job of accounting for changing conditions. For instance, FEMA often assigns low flood risk to locations that are near coasts but slightly elevated, due to insufficient wave modeling to account for storm surge risk. This can give residents in those zones a false sense of security. And the maps do not analyze how risks vary within flood zones, or between coastal and inland locations..
FEMA is required to assess whether the maps need updating maps every five years. But a recent Congressional Budget Office report found that two-thirds of counties with high flood-related claims had maps that were more than five years old. The update process is time-consuming, with a lengthy statutory consultation and appeals process.
Even if communities have more recent data, FEMA will not publish a partial update. This explains why Friendswood – which has an updated flood map for some land within its limits, created after Tropical Storm Allison in 2007 – can revert to a 20-year-old FEMA map to guide post-Harvey rebuilding.
Friendswood is just one example of Houston officials downplaying flood risks. FEMA maps are developed and updated in partnership with communities; in recent years the agency has allowed Houston developers to revise local flood maps through steps such as dumping tons of fill to raise neighborhoods above the flood plain – sometimes just by inches.
Today, a developer in Friendswood is planning to build a shopping center in the Clear Creek floodway – the zone around the creek where most of the water flows – on top of trucked-in dirt. In the past decade, some 1,400 structures have been permitted in and around Houston in floodways.
A pro-building, pro-expansion mentality still permeates the city. Despite opposition from some residents and local media, Houston’s City Council unanimously approved a plan in April 2018 to build 900 homes in a west Houston flood plain.
A floodway is land along a creek, stream or river that conveys most of the water, so flow is deepest, fastest and most dangerous. Boulder County, Colorado
Houston is taking some steps to reduce flood risks, such as buying out houses that have routinely flooded and requiring other owners to elevate their homes. Nonetheless, these pro-development examples are troubling.
According to one recent study, the extreme amounts of rain that fell on Houston during Harvey resulted from unprecedented ocean heat content. In other words, it was exacerbated by human-induced climate change. In a climate where temperatures are projected to increase in the future, hurricane-induced coastal flooding will be more frequent and intense.
My recent research shows that even with their flaws, FEMA flood maps influence decisions to purchase flood insurance and overall support for flood mitigation. Policy makers need to seriously consider how to accurately communicate increasing flood risks to the public. Reverting to old flood maps and granting variances to promote development is a recipe for more disasters down the road.
The public health benefits of adding offshore wind to the grid
June 19, 2018
Research Associate, Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University
Jonathan Buonocore receives funding from The Heinz Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, the Schmidt Family Foundation, and the JPB Foundation for his research.
New plans to build two commercial offshore wind farms near the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coasts have sparked a lot of discussion about the vast potential of this previously untapped source of electricity.
But as an environmental health and climate researcher, I’m intrigued by how this gust of offshore wind power may improve public health. Replacing fossil fuels with wind and solar energy, research shows, can reduce risks of asthma, hospitalizations and heart attacks. In turn, that can save lives.
So my colleagues and I calculated the health impact of generating electricity through offshore wind turbines – which until now the U.S. has barely begun to do.
Greening the grid
New England gets almost none of its electricity from burning coal and more than three-quarters of it from burning natural gas and operating nuclear reactors. The rest is from hydropower and from renewable energy, including wind and solar power and the burning of wood and refuse.
The health benefits of moving to wind power would be significant, particularly for regions that rely more heavily on coal and oil to generate electricity.
Replacing coal and oil with offshore wind will reduce emissions of air pollutants like fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. These pollutants can form smog, soot and ozone. When people downwind are exposed to them, they can develop incapacitating and deadly diseases.
Saving 13 lives a year
When my colleagues and I studied what would happen if offshore wind farms were installed off the Mid-Atlantic coast, we determined that they would bring about health and climate benefits.
We projected that a 1,100-megawatt wind farm off the coast of New Jersey, a bit smaller than the two approved offshore wind farms, would save around 13 lives per year.
When connected to the grid, this new source of power would make carbon emissions decline by around 2.2 million tons every year, the equivalent to taking over 400,000 cars off the road.
Offshore wind faces a number of technical and economic hurdles, including installation of transmission lines. But at least theoretically, this form of renewable energy could generate enough electricity to supply all the electricity the U.S. consumes and then some, according to the Energy Department. Members of the Trump administration, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, appear to support offshore wind.
While it may not be possible, practical or necessary to build offshore wind everywhere, even replacing a small portion of the nation’s fossil-fueled electricity will be good for everyone’s health.