North Carolina policy increases state’s vulnerability to storms like Dorian

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Tyler Chalfant | September 3rd, 2019

As Hurricane Dorian hits the southeastern coast today, several of the states in its trajectory are particularly vulnerable due to policies that have ignored the reality of climate change. In North Carolina, lawmakers have limited the ability of scientists to make long-term predictions about sea level rise, and encouraged developments on the low-lying barrier islands which may make the shoreline more vulnerable.

Dorian has already been uniquely devastating to the Bahamas, where at least five people have been killed and as many as 13,000 homes destroyed. The hurricane slowed to a virtual standstill over the island, following the pattern of Hurricanes Harvey and Florence over the past two years. Warm water causes storms to move more slowly and intensify more quickly, so as the planet’s oceans and atmosphere warm, this trend is likely to continue. Dorian makes 2019 the fourth year in a row to have a category 5 hurricane, which is the longest streak on record. 

The barrier islands along the lower part of the North Carolina’s shoreline are being gradually pushed towards the mainland through natural erosion as sea levels rise. Recent tourist-driven developments, largely subsidized through the National Flood Insurance Program, attempt to hold the islands in place by replenishing depleted shorelines, making them more vulnerable to storms and to being washed over from both sides.
In 2012, the state’s Coastal Resources Commission chose to ignore its scientific advisors when they issued a report projecting 39 inches of sea level rise by the end of the century. Saying they wanted forecasts to be based on historical rates, the lawmakers placed a 30-year limit on the forecasts that could be made. As the science advisory panel prepares to update its sea level rise report later this year, this limitation may be removed.

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