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Ida's Remnants Devastated The Northeast. Climate Scientists Saw It Coming


Northeast is cleaning up from the flooding and tornadoes caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. At least 49 people died in the region. Residents and some public officials were surprised by the severe weather. But storms like this are what scientists have long warned about. Jeff Brady from NPR's climate team reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: In Bridgeport, Pa., at about 1:00 in the morning Thursday, Vernon Perry (ph) says the nearby river was rising, and the fire department woke him up.

VERNON PERRY: They just were saying, evacuate now. Get out. This is the only chance you've got to go now. Get out. Run.

BRADY: There wasn't even time to move his car. It's flooded, like others on this street. A front-loader hauls them to waiting trucks at the end of the muddy block.


BRADY: Brenda Knight (ph) is sitting on her front step next to the sidewalk, where a pipe gushes water into the street.


BRADY: It's being pumped up from her basement.

BRENDA KNIGHT: The water came up to the first floor here. And first floor, my rug was soaking wet in there.

BRADY: Asked whether she expected such a severe storm because of climate change...

KNIGHT: Not at all. This is a complete surprise. We had no idea of the magnitude of the damage that was going to be caused.

BRADY: Even New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who talks about climate change fueling more severe storms, was surprised.


KATHY HOCHUL: We did not know that between 8:50 and 9:50 p.m., that the heavens would literally open up and bring Niagara Falls-level water to the streets of New York.

BRADY: It's one thing to talk about the effects of climate change. It's another to experience them, says Bernadette Woods Placky, chief meteorologist with Climate Central.

BERNADETTE WOODS PLACKY: Even if you said to her there was going to be over three inches of rain in one hour, if she's never seen that, what does that mean? What does that look like? What does that look like on the ground?

BRADY: Same for the rest of us, but we're getting more examples. There was Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey nine years ago. The Pacific Northwest now understands what days of 100+-degree weather is like. And across the country, more people are experiencing wildfires and hazardous smoke. But Placky says sometimes even the most basic information doesn't reach people, such as the pretty accurate forecast meteorologists issued before Ida reached the Northeast. She says maybe it wasn't in the media some people consume, or they were just fed up with bad news from the pandemic and divisive politics. Still...

PLACKY: Even if everyone was super prepared for something like this, our infrastructure and our society is not.

BRADY: There were heartbreaking stories of people trapped in cars and others in basement apartments who died there because of flooding. New York already was working on ways to notify people in basement dwellings about extreme rain. Rachel Cleetus with Union of Concerned Scientists says it's time to double down on those efforts to make communities more resilient to extreme weather because this feeling of being surprised will come again.

RACHEL CLEETUS: This is what climate change means. We will be in unprecedented territory again and again. So that's what we have to prepare for - not the weather and climate of the past, but what's coming our way in the future.

BRADY: And what makes this so hard is at the same time, humans have another big job to do. Cleetus says the world must dramatically cut the heat-trapping emissions that are warming the climate in the first place.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.