The waters are deeper. The winds are more intense. The rains are more relentless. And the damage and devastation are horrific.

As Hurricane Ian pummeled Florida, it left 2.5 million customers without power, destroyed houses and trapped many in their homes, caused flooding higher than 12 feet in some places, and wiped out critical infrastructure, including a large section of the causeway that connects Sanibel Island to the mainland. Worst of all, the death toll is predicted to be in the hundreds. 

President Joe Biden said it could become the "deadliest hurricane in Florida's history," with some experts estimating the economic damage at $70 billion. Gov. Ron DeSantis called it "basically a 500-year flood event." Other officials used words like "unprecedented" to describe Ian's ferocity.

But no one should assume a storm like Ian is a once-in-500-years occurrence anymore. Climate change has led to this moment and unfortunately, there will be more like it. Warmer temperatures and oceans lead to more moisture in the air, and more rainfall. The warm water allows a storm like Ian to rapidly intensify even as it barrels toward land. That has made forecasting — and preparation — more difficult. Even when we think we know how bad a storm might be, it could be worse.

It's a message Long Island needs to hear. As we approach the 10th anniversary of superstorm Sandy — which never reached hurricane status here — the region remains vulnerable to a so-called "500-year flood event." Are we ready?

Long Island has been hit by hurricanes before. Names like Belle and Gloria remind us of the destruction that's possible. But a hurricane that hits now could be even stronger, as Ian has shown. Preparations of the past may not be enough.

State and local leaders must reexamine hurricane preparedness plans. What do evacuation routes look like? Where are the Island's biggest vulnerabilities, and how can we address them? Individual localities should work together to devise regionwide plans and solutions.

The more Long Islanders know about the region's preparedness efforts, the better. Local officials should make their plans public and continue to revise them to reflect climate change's growing impact. And residents must have personal game plans and be prepared to heed warnings and calls for evacuation, know where to go, and have backups for power, food and shelter.

It won't be 500 years before another monstrous hurricane comes our way. We must be ready.

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.

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