Not Waiting for Another ’38 Hurricane: Preparing Connecticut and Long Island’s Coasts Now

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Act, Learn

[Editor's note] With Hurricane Irene preparations taking place all along the East Coast of the U.S. heading into the weekend, now is a good time to revisit a blog from back in May by The Nature Conservancy’s Lisa Hayden. It discusses how Connecticut and New York are strengthening their coasts with help from the Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience web tool.

As a native of Connecticut, I’ve heard the stories of the 1938 hurricane that are still passed down the generations – how my mother (only a child at the time) and her family cowered in their farmhouse dining room as my grandfather went out to check on the cows and part of the barn roof flew off (luckily he was unscathed).

My mother remembers her grandmother backing her chair up against the rattling door to keep it from blowing open. And when my mother said she was too scared to read the Bible she was clutching, her grandmother told her: “You should never be too scared to read the Bible.”

That hurricane, dubbed the Long Island Express, killed about 600 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 homes. Planners, scientists and state officials know it is only a matter of time before it happens again – when another hurricane blows up the Atlantic Coast and targets Long Island, and New England beyond it – squarely in its crosshairs.

With continued sea level rise and increased intensity of storms predicted with climate change, coastal preparedness is an ongoing issue in Connecticut, where housing development punctuates the shore.

People who live along Connecticut’s coast on Long Island Sound are already noticing changes: warmer ocean water, more frequent flooding of shoreline trails and roads, and more frequent heavy rainstorms.  Check out the video above to hear more.

Now a new planning tool is helping communities in Connecticut and New York to better prepare for a changing coast.

Using The Nature Conservancy’s newly expanded and improved Coastal Resilience Tool, decision-makers can explore different flooding scenarios with sea level rise and storm surge to learn how the dynamic ocean may affect their community in coming years and through the storms of the future. (To check out the maps – including existing infrastructure, economic, social and ecological assets – and different sea level rise scenarios over the coming century, click on Geographies and Long Island Sound then “Future Scenario Map”. There are also links for Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Virgin Islands.)

So, for example, how can critical infrastructure, like roads, rail lines and schools, be protected from surging ocean waters following a hurricane?

How should communities deal with eroding beaches and shifting shorelines?

And what lands should be protected from development to let wetlands – important for fisheries and shorebirds – adapt and migrate inland as seas rise?

Our old-timers might agree: better to think about these questions before the next big hurricane.

Lisa Hayden is a blogger and feature writer for The Nature Conservancy

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