Op-Ed: New England, Brace Yourself


Huge hurricane Matthew in Atlantic near Florida. 3D illustration. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. Photo purchased from BigStock.com.

Michael Young, Journalist

Hurricane Lorenzo, the easternmost Category 5 Atlantic hurricane on record, shows that even Europe is susceptible to Mother Earth’s wrath. This could also spell potential disaster for New England, which is often seen as a safe haven from powerful storms.

Lorenzo became the second Category 5 hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, and it strengthened to that intensity more northeastern than usual. It just missed the Azores, and last Wednesday the hurricane’s remnants caused mild windstorms in Ireland and parts of Wales.

While Lorenzo didn’t impact Massachusetts, changing weather patterns have me worried that New England won’t continue to be spared. In 1991, Hurricane Bob was the last major storm to severely impact New England, causing an estimated$1.5 billion in damage, as well as at least 15 fatalities, as a Category 2 storm. Prior to that, Hurricane Carol landed in 1954 as a Category 3 event.

Illustration purchased from BigStock.com.

But in more recent years, rising ocean temperatures, combined with extreme weather patterns, have made our part of the globe more susceptible to hurricanes. In 2011, as a tropical storm, Irene caused significant damage along the eastern seaboard, making its way to Vermont. A year later, Sandy, as a Category 3 hurricane, devastated parts of Massachusetts, also flooding parts of New York City and New Jersey.

Due to global warming’s impact on water temperature, major hurricanes could remain strong in areas that they previously didn’t. I worry that Massachusetts might encounter Category 2 or 3 hurricanes in the near future. And it’s no surprise that thousands across the nation, including several students here, participated in the Sept. 20 Climate Strike.

According to NBC Boston, “in a worst-case scenario for New England, some parts of Cape Cod would be flooded by 10 feet of water or more,” leading to $72 billion or more in damages.

Christopher Neill, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Research Center, recently told WGBH that “we’re due” for another major hurricane.

“It’s hard to imagine Massachusetts being hit with the equivalent of Hurricane Harvey, the Category 4 storm that brought devastating flooding to Houston,” the news channel reported. “Or Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 storm that has caused a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. But scientists say it has happened before and will happen again.”

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has made available a public report on climate change, citing that “for tropical storms, there is some evidence that their intensity has been increasing,” and that “if tropical storm intensity increases, major hurricanes (Category 3 and greater) could occur more frequently, even if the total number of tropical storms does not increase.”

I’m also concerned about infrastructure, and how many homes and buildings in New England lack stormproof windows. Roof shingles can also be easily ripped off, causing damage to cars and other nearby property.

Massachusetts isn’t prepared for hurricanes, even as Boston and some other towns and cities have action plans. We need to get moving. Mother Earth isn’t going to wait.