The Aftermath of Hurricane Ida


How global warming and inadequate infrastructure worked together to help Ida overwhelm the northeast.

Last month, just as the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was rolling around, a storm just as potentially catastrophic was set to hit Louisiana. Hurricane Ida, predicted to be a category 4 hurricane, was expected to ravage Louisiana and the greater south. 

New Orleans, a city that had seen devastating loss of life in Katrina, was waiting to see if its improved levee system would hold out. After Katrina, the federal government had spent $14 Billion to improve the system that had failed to prevent the dangerous storm surge that wrecked New Orleans. And the new system worked. However, many areas of the country were not prepared for the flooding it would cause. 

In New York City, large amounts of rain caused by Ida’s aftermath resulted in historic flooding. Streets became rivers and subway stairs became cascading waterfalls. For many, the sight was surreal. 

New York was unprepared for Ida. When Hurricane Sandy flooded parts of the city in 2012, the most devastated areas were all located near large bodies of water. This time however, it was not the coastlines that were inundated with water, but the inland areas. Flooding in these neighborhoods has claimed the lives of at least eleven people. 

“…places farther inland typically get lower rainfall totals, so they’re less prepared for anything like 15 inches of rain in a day,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor at Texas A&M University who teaches atmospheric sciences.

Besides large rainfall, Hurricane Ida brought devastating winds. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, seven tornados ravaged both states. The death toll in the Northeast has risen to 50. 

Many believe that global warming contributed to the devastating effects of Hurricane Ida, and that simply improving infrastructure will not be enough to stop the worst effects of climate change. 

 In New York City, as in many urban areas, there are not enough surfaces for water to sink into the ground. Instead, surfaces like concrete drive water downhill, causing heavy flooding. Systems that were supposed to help, such as the city’s sewer system, were overwhelmed

Possible solutions to alleviate the burden of heavy rainfall, such as floodable park walkways and rain gardens, can help, but will not be able to forestall the worst effects of climate change. 

“The problem, of course, is that climate change is moving too quickly,” says Ross Barkan  in an opinion piece for the Guardian.”New York, like other large cities, will need to aggressively prioritize storm resiliency in the coming years, pouring tens or hundreds of billions of dollars into redesigning the city itself to capture flood water almost everywhere.”

Last Tuesday, President Biden held a press conference in New York to address the situation. “When I talk about building back better, I mean you can’t build it to what it was before this last storm. You got to build better, so if the storm occurred again, there would be no damage,” said Biden. 

“The evidence is clear,” Biden said. “Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, to our economy and the threat is here. It’s not going to get any better.”