1st storm early; watch its effects carefully

Jul. 03, 2014 @ 04:56 PM

This editorial appeared in The Fayetteville Observer

Let's hope this is a replay of last year, when a tropical storm swiped us shortly after hurricane season began and got us worried.

Turned out that 2013's Tropical Storm Andrea was about all we were going to get. It was the first Atlantic hurricane season since 1994 with no major hurricanes forming.

As another early tropical storm passes, we still need to do more than hope or trust to repeated good luck. We need to be careful.

Most important, watch the coastal weather reports and forecasts before heading out for a holiday visit to the beach this weekend. It may be wet and dangerous out there. Some of it may be under water.

There's been a lot of talk, and controversy, about the flooding of our coastline. While there's no disputing that ocean levels are rising, there's plenty of disagreement over how much. Recent predictions of a 39-inch rise by the end of this century put coastal developers in a froth, which they passed along to the General Assembly. Lawmakers overreacted as well and drew national ridicule for barring the use of current science in coastal-planning work.

The ridicule was well earned, although we doubt it had much effect on the legislators who oversee coastal public policy. But even among coastal scientists, there are differences of opinion about how much, exactly, the seas will rise. As computer modeling has repeatedly shown, it's hard to predict what our planet's complex ecosystems are going to do next week, let alone in 50 years.

But that's no reason to abandon planning efforts, or to conduct them as if nothing's ever going to change. Rather, we need a more solid alliance between science and government, making the best possible decisions about coastal planning and development.

After all, every time N.C. 12 on the Outer Banks is washed away, our tax dollars are replacing it. And as ocean levels continue to rise, our tax dollars will replace other vulnerable roads when storms pass through.

When Hurricane Floyd visited in 1999, it inundated land all the way from the beaches to Interstate 95 in places. Ocean levels today are higher, and a Floyd would be that much more deadly. Think about that as you review the flooding reports we may see after Arthur passes.

And meanwhile, watch those forecasts and plan your beach outings this weekend with care.