Greenpoint: Odd up here, downright dangerous in other parts

Hurricane season brings hurricanes, and some years are more active than others
In downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico, electric lines lie in the road and block apartment complexes.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
In downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico, electric lines lie in the road and block apartment complexes.

“If this lasts, I don’t think I’d mind,” my husband said last week, during our stretch of 90-degree, late-September weather.

What do you expect? He’s a Floridian, and when everyone else was sweating and complaining and marveling at how the weather said county fair instead of apple picking, he was gleefully hoeing in the garden, splitting wood and building new sheds.

The man needs heat to feel well.

The rest of us? It felt a little weird. After what should have been a cool fall hike, we were drenched and drained and had to jump into a lake. It was too cold to swim, but it felt good to cool off. The next day my son’s cross-country team ended their run with a jump into a smaller, and therefore warmer, lake. They swam.

In the garden, the peppers keep coming and the late tomatillos just might get big enough for salsa. The extended garden season’s been great for the harvest, although I have to work quickly to process produce before it’s lost in the heat. I stayed up late a few nights last week, peeling, slicing, roasting and freezing vegetables and fruit.

Lucky that we have a freezer — and the power to run it.

Down in my husband’s childhood home, his family was without power for nine days after Hurricane Irma, and had to toss the contents of their freezer. But they were lucky too. They never lost water, and a neighbor with a generator hooked up a fan to keep my father-in-law cool.

Down in Puerto Rico, more than 90 percent of the island is still without power a week after Hurricane Maria. Most of the hospitals are still closed, and a floating Navy hospital is still days away from arriving and becoming operational.

Roads and homes are destroyed, and getting help to an island is a lot harder than to the mainland, where you can send in trucks of aid and construction as soon as the rain and winds stop.

In Texas, a month after Hurricane Harvey hit, people are still dealing with piles of soaked and rotting debris — former furniture and household items — that could take another month to haul away. Floodwaters from up to 50 inches of rain hit not only homes and businesses, but oil refineries and superfund sites, spreading contaminated water. A study by Environment Texas found “nearly 2 million pounds of air pollution released into the environment around Houston from Aug. 25 to Sept. 14 through spills or emissions commonly known as flares,” according to a report on Houston TV station KPRC. Cleanup will take months, and residents don’t really know what they’re dealing with in terms of air quality and water quality.

Hurricane season brings hurricanes, and some years are more active than others. So it’s hard to say if the one-two-three punch of Harvey, Irma and Maria is really an anomaly.

Real changes are a little more subtle — like downtown Miami flooding every time there’s a big rainstorm. We saw photos of streets in Miami’s financial district looking like rivers after Irma hit, but family members down there say that’s common now. Coastal areas up and down the Eastern seaboard flood a lot more. Storms seem like they’re getting harsher and stronger year-round. And even up here, weeklong sub-zero stretches are no longer common in winter.

Everyone talks about weather, and the weather is always weird. But the trends seem ominous. Summers seem warmer, longer; winters are a lot less harsh. But our climate is tough up here, and a little relief doesn’t seem that bad.

It’s different for places nearer the ocean or built on wetlands. Right now, though, the focus needs to be on recovery.

Health and returning basic services are top priorities. Puerto Rico is hurting; relief agencies are collecting funds and supplies.

Cleanup from all three storms will be massive and take years, and we’ll need to keep a close eye on contaminants and toxins that can impact health for even longer periods. And to examine what adjustments need to be made to deal with a changing climate.

It’s nice to enjoy the gardens while the frost holds off. But it’s also important to make sure our cousins in Puerto Rico have access to food.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Oct. 15.  Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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