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Plan better for future storms

Cars stuck on a flooded street when Hurricane

Cars stuck on a flooded street when Hurricane Ida's remnants hit Queens last week.   Credit: EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/Justin Lane

New York and Long Island elected officials on Thursday kept saying in so many words how unprecedented and historic the storm was the night before.

That’s no longer an excuse.

Yes, the remnants of Ida that made their way hundreds of miles north ended up having a big impact locally, dumping enormous amounts of rain that deluged Long Island and shattered a one-hour record set just last month in Central Park. Winds in some places were titanic. Flash floods were a major threat. We thought Henri just a week and a half ago could have been the big one, but this week’s storm in many ways ended up being a bigger mess.

But that’s just life as we live it now and most likely in the future, as scientists expect these storms to only become more severe. We have to be better prepared.

That includes a more effective warning system, from the National Weather Service on down to states, counties and towns, to help inform people early on when to stay indoors and get off the roads and trains. Too many people were caught unawares this time, thinking it was just rain, increasing the likelihood of abandoned cars and trapped residents — and that's exactly what happened.

The region also needs better infrastructure to deal with all kinds of severe weather, including epic rainfall. That means funding for better and bigger-capacity drainage systems to protect roads, businesses and homes. We can’t have major highways and streets regularly turn into rivers. We still have to figure out how to bury more power lines, though other recent storms like Isaias have been worse in that regard.

Our transportation system needs more protection, something not sufficiently done even after Superstorm Sandy. There have to be more safeguards against Long Island Rail Road and city subway tracks and stations being deluged by waterfalls. That may mean more pump power and stormwater drainage capacity.

Then there are the longer-term fixes. We cannot expect a region so swathed in concrete to bounce right back from heavy rain. More parts of Long Island and the city need more green infrastructure like bioswales and wetland restorations that can filter and absorb the water that is sure to come.

And of course we need to speed up our transition to renewable energy sources like offshore wind and solar, and make our buildings more efficient.

There is plenty of cleaning up to do from this storm, which took us by surprise. There are fallen trees to haul away, waterlogged basements full of precious storage to sift through and toss or save, and people to mourn in Brooklyn and Queens. We cannot continue to try to bounce back again and again like this. We need more planning and mitigating for the weather to come.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.