Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why Is Everybody Ignoring Louisiana?

Louisiana is experiencing the nation's worst
disaster since Superstorm Sandy. Why haven't we
paid more attention to this calamity? 
The question in the headline of this post is being asked more and more in weather geek circles.

The ongoing flood disaster in Louisiana has certainly been in the news, but it hasn't gotten the attention of other calamaties of similar size.  

Louisiana is probably on par with Superstorm Sandy in 2012 in terms of how widespread the destruction is.

The Weather Channel has the latest tally: 

So far, 11 people have died. The flooding had destroyed or damaged at least 40,000 homes. About 30,000 people and 1,000 pets have been rescued. So far, at least 40,000 people have sought FEMA disaster assistance.

In Ascension Parish (parishes are akin to counties in other states) at least 15,00 homes and businesses are flooded. In Livingston Parish, home to 138,000 people before the flood, it's estimated taht 75 percent of the homes are total losses.

I'm sure the death toll will rise. reports that they haven't even really begun door to door searches yet, and there are probably victims in some of these flooded houses.

Bottom line: This is huge.

So why has the media sort of yawned over this one?

Marshall Shepherd, writing in Forbes, has several theories.  Among them: The storm didn't have a catchy name like a hurricane, i.e Katrina.

The news cycle is full of other big stuff: Trump, unrest in Milwaukee, the Olympics are all competing for news viewers. Marshall also says the flood evolved over the weekend, when news organizations aren't nearly as staffed or engaged as they are during the workweek.

Marshall brings up a rather scary, sad reason Louisiana might have been downplayed in the national conscience: There have been so many huge floods lately that this one seems like old hat.  We've had a ever-lengthening string of enormous so-called 500 year floods. South Carolina. Texas. (twice!) West Virginia, Maryland.

And here we go again, another flood. When something becomes routine, it's not news anymore. Of course, if big floods become so common that they aren't news, something's wrong.

It's probably a combination of climate change, which makes epic rain storms and floods more likely, and the fact that we're paving over flood plains that is causing this. (If you pave over forests, marshes and fields with shopping centers and neighborhoods, the water will no longer harmlessly fill up a bayou. It will flow into people's houses instead. )

The fact that floods that wreck thousands of homes, affect thousands of people at one time has become routine and a "new normal" should be frightening to a lot of us.

If this "new normal" means all these victims are ignored, then they don't get the help they need. As put it in a headline: "National Media Fiddles While Louisiana Drowns."

People are doing heroic work in Lousiana to help flood victims. But it takes the glare of the national spotlight to force as much aid into the disaster zone as possible. If the general public is more aware of a catastrophe like Louisiana, the more likely they are to dig into their pockets to help.

Or as put it: "As Louisiana well knows, the loosening of the recovery purse strings is directly commensurate to the number of people who are made aware of the scope of the devastation. In this case, where national news coverage has been scarce, locals have every reason to worry that recovery funds will be just as scarce."

Let's just hope lots of attention, and relief money and supplies for Louisiana flow into the state faster than the flood waters did.


But broaden the focus a little, and some links appear. The frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall events have increased globally, said Kenneth Kunkel, a climate scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
“Each decade, it has been higher than the previous decade, for about the last 30 to 40 years,” he said.
Both the land and the oceans have been warming up, which has increased the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, he said. The oceanic moisture feeds into the storms that form over land. It is likely that the storm in Baton Rouge last week produced more rainfall than it would have 40 years ago, Kunkel said.

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