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The Ravages of Hurricane Florence (October)

The Ravages of Hurricane Florence

By Rep. John Ager, published in the October edition of the Fairview Town Crier

As I write this column, rivers in eastern NC are cresting after record amounts of rainfall brought ashore
by Hurricane Florence. Some parts of the state suffered over 3 feet of precipitation as the storm crept along at 2 miles an hour. Rivers rose and vast quantities of water began the journey back to the ocean through communities already flooded.

Farmers worked long hours to harvest crops before the deluge, and hogs were moved to higher ground. WNC was largely spared the devastation. Lives in our state were lost and forever altered by Florence.

While the grinding recovery has begun, thousands of heroic first responders deserve to be honored for preserving safety and saving lives. Our own Fairview Fire Department sent a team east to Bladen County prior to landfall to help manage the disaster.

Crews from all over the US arrived too, along with volunteers bringing food and water and other necessities. Many church teams deployed, such as Buncombe County’s Hearts with Hands ministry. The brunt of the effort fell on the shoulders of various levels of government: fire and rescue; the National Guard; Highway patrol; local police and sheriff departments; the Coast Guard; and on and on. 

The organizing of all of this help required extraordinary leadership to be effective. Long hours of training made the success possible, along with your tax dollars. 

Hurricane Florence created what has been called a 500- or 1,000-year flood. It followed by two years the 500-year flood caused by Hurricane Matthew, from which NC is still recovering. Last May, the sub-tropical storm Alberto moved through Alabama and brought torrential rain and landslides to WNC. And before that, we had a severe drought and terrible forest fires. 

Clearly, the effects of a changing climate are staring us in the face and wreaking havoc to our state. 

Our atmosphere has been changed dramatically since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. We have been dumping carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases into our air, making the atmosphere more
dense or thicker. As the sun beats down, heat that used to be reflected back into space is trapped by this thicker atmosphere heating up the planet slowly but surely. This heat dries out the land, providing
conditions for fires and challenging our farmers. However, 90 percent of the heat is absorbed by the oceans. They have now warmed down to 2,000 feet below the surface. Hurricanes that once were cooled
down and diminished by the colder water are now being supercharged, ramping up wind speeds and the quantity of water pulled up into the storm. Moreover, the higher water temperature in our latitudes
diminishes the normal trade winds, causing the storms to move more slowly.

Scientists have also been able to measure the dramatic increase in melting ice in the polar regions, Alaska, Greenland, and glaciers around the world. This water goes into the oceans, causing sea level rise that
is already affecting our shorelines. 

The NC General Assembly in 2012 passed a law mandating that the measurement of sea level rise for our state not be based on actual mathematical data but on a lesser scale that would allow developers to build homes in more of our coastal regions. I believe the images of storm surge damage to beach houses after Florence proves the folly of trying to pass laws against the force of nature.

It would be easy to despair in the face of such a daunting problem, but solutions exist. 

We need to roll up our sleeves and take on the challenge. Fortunately, there is reason to hope that we can clean up our atmosphere and return to a more normal climate. We can begin by reducing and then eliminating the dumping of harmful gases into the air. Much of the heavy lift involves the energy created with fossil fuels, which has been the foundation of the Industrial Revolution. Automobiles are much cleaner today, and electrical generation is phasing out the burning of coal. Natural gas is much cheaper than coal, and burns cleaner, but still releases some gases in its production. It is hoped that it will be a short-term bridge fuel.

The big surprise is the rapid development of inexpensive solar electricity in NC. Our state has been a national leader in solar, and the rapid decrease in the cost of solar technology is a big reason. Cost-effective battery storage is looming as a technological breakthrough that would revolutionize how electricity is created and distributed. 

Wind power can be another source of renewable energy in NC. Amazon has already built a huge wind farm in the state. Wind mapping off our shores is promising.

Another interesting energy source has been the creation of methane generators using hog waste. I do not know how these plants compare cost-wise, but burning the gas before it can go into the atmosphere helps solve the problem.

Finally, agriculture will play a large role in pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it underground. Promising research has identified “regenerative” agriculture as a boon to better soil and a cleaner atmosphere. Through the buildup of extensive root structures underground (made from carbon), soil fertility is enhanced over time.

I am once again proud to be your Fairview farmer in Raleigh. 

- John Ager