Florida Has No “Simple Remedies.” Hurricane Ian’s Devastation May Prompt Greater Planning

Barbara Liz-Ortiz did all she could think of to get her daughter’s fever down, including giving the youngster fluids and a cool shower. The only thing she was missing was medication, and she was unable to go outside and get any.

Liz-Ortiz was stranded at home during Hurricane Ian, as were thousands of Floridians, not because of the hurricane’s terrible winds or storm surge, but because of severe floods.

Florida Has No "Simple Remedies." Hurricane Ian's Devastation May Prompt Greater Planning
Florida Has No “Simple Remedies.” Hurricane Ian’s Devastation May Prompt Greater Planning

Liz-Ortiz and her family, along with many of their neighbors in the Buena Ventura Lakes subdivision of Kissimmee, Florida, were trapped inside on Thursday as water storage sites in the region spilled.

Ian slogged across the state on Wednesday and Thursday, dumping as much as 17 inches of rain in some spots. Picturesque lakes, ponds, and rivers turned into floodwaters that ruined Friday for many people and necessitated emergency evacuations and rescues.

Experts in the fields of hydrology, urban planning, and climate change were appalled but not surprised by the unfolding visuals. They have been warning about the unsustainable nature of Florida’s and other coastal states’ expanding development for years, especially in light of the fact that a warmer climate amplifies the intensity of hurricane rains.

Kevin Reed, an associate professor of atmospheric science at Stony Brook University in New York, said, “This is kind of what we had expected for days in advance, and it’s still awful to see so many people stuck.”

He and other scientists say they anticipate Ian’s destruction will spur Florida to take additional steps to safeguard homes from future flooding as the warming climate makes natural disasters and rains more catastrophic.

Assistant professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University Linda Shi commented, “None of this is shocking.” “How much more resistance do we need before we decide to act? Our actions and decisions have brought us to this point.”

Recent research by Reed and colleagues found that modern hurricanes receive up to 10% more precipitation than they did in the past due to climate change. On Thursday, scientists used the same models to compare Ian’s rainfall to what it would have been without a warming climate and found that it was at least 10% higher.

Reed characterized this as “one of the clearest evidence” of the effects of climate change on storms. Two inches of rain may not seem like much, but it may have a huge effect when added to a vast quantity of precipitation. That’s an extra 54,000 gallons of water spread out over just one acre.

The stream gauges in the area all went over the roof, with some even setting new regional records.

Ian’s deluge made the consequences of the storm surge, which was only a few feet high, much worse along the east coast of Florida. One watercourse in Volusia County’s New Smyrna Beach rose nine feet in just 12 hours due to the convergence of high tides and more than 15 inches of rain. According to the National Weather Service, more than a half dozen weather stations in the county recorded rainfall totals in the double digits.

According to county spokesperson Andrew Gant, the sheriff’s office was called out 600 times for rescue operations. A man waiting to be rescued from rising floodwaters in his home drowned after slipping and falling and being unable to get up in time.

On Friday, water rescues were still necessary in Flagler County, Florida due to the same combination of rain and storm surge.

Tracy Berry, her husband, and their three children had been living in a camper on property near Myakka City in Manatee County, where they intended to eventually construct a home. After the floods on Thursday, they took refuge in an apartment located on the second floor of their barn. Overnight on Wednesday into Thursday morning, the Myakka River forced its way into a creek behind their property, flooding several feet of it. Before the hurricane, the river was already close to flood level, but it jumped 8 feet in less than 24 hours.

Currently, “we’re still kind of in survival mode,” said Berry, a paramedic who also operates a no-kill animal rescue. Since I am a first responder, I can confidently say that “we truly are more prepared than some.”

Her husband’s shop and a few other nearby structures were swept away by the storm surge and the fierce winds. She explained that the family would do their best with the variety of rescue animals they had, keeping some in the apartment and the rest on a horse trailer, but that the horses were stuck in the mud with nowhere to go.

As she put it, they “lost everything.” This is the second major tragedy to strike their family. Their home and all their possessions were lost in the 2013 Black Forest wildfire in Colorado.

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