The intense burst of rain that fell Friday on Long Island and in New York City caught too many by surprise and taught us all a lesson about emergency preparedness in the evermore worrisome era of climate change.
The deluge — which included nine inches of rain in places like Valley Stream — forced the evacuation of two Elmont housing complexes, strained a sewage pipe in Baldwin, and led Long Beach to send an urgent message to city residents asking them to stop taking showers and other unnecessary uses of water because the wastewater treatment system was under severe pressure.
While the sun was shining two days later, Long Islanders would be wise to heed the implicit lessons of this intense sudden storm, and not treat it merely as a passing dark cloud. It underlined why we need to rethink and recalibrate the way we respond to a new breed of weather emergencies in the future.
Increasingly, Long Islanders live in a world of virtually snowless winters as temperatures seem to creep upward. This summer even brought the odd and unfamiliar experience of orange clouds of smoke from wildfires in faraway Canada that posed a significant health risk for those walking outside in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Friday’s immense downpour created chaotic scenes like the rescue of 80 seniors in one Elmont complex from two feet of water in their apartments as PSEG Long Island cut their power as a precaution.
While many meteorologists warned about Friday’s sudden deluge well in advance, somehow the message didn’t seem to get an adequate governmental response until the onslaught of rain and flooding was upon us. Several public officials, notably New York City Mayor Eric Adams, were rightfully criticized for late and inadequate public alerts. New Yorkers not paying attention to weather emergency alerts by government and the news media must recognize that they, too, are at fault for being caught off guard. As climate change brings more intense storms and weather emergencies, a rethinking of current methods must be considered.
Given some of the emergencies Long Island has endured in recent memory, it is time to hold a summit of local, state and federal officials to examine how we can improve our emergency alert systems and bolster our local infrastructure. Gov. Kathy Hochul should create a task force or appropriate mechanism to examine what went wrong with Friday’s storm preparation and response, identify any systemic problems in alerting the public to such emergencies, and take action to make sure they do not happen again.
Climate change and its consequences — like more intense storms and rising sea levels along our populated coastline — is a fact of life that we must prepare for now. Next time there may be greater harm if we don’t improve our response plan.
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.