By John Conger
When it comes to climate change, there are some issues (sea level rise, Arctic ice melt) which it doesn’t take a science degree to get one’s head around. Extreme weather, on the other hand, is highly complex and there isn’t always a simple way to characterize changes in a way that doesn’t spur debate.
Nonetheless, it is widely acknowledged by scientists, based on decades of rainfall data, that climate change is significantly increasing the frequency of weather events that deliver extreme rainfall, such as hurricane Florence. And what’s entirely beyond debate is that in addition to the climate risks civilian populations and infrastructure faces in the region, the Department of Defense has multiple important installations in areas that are vulnerable to extreme rainfall events, and Hurricane Florence just slammed into several of them.
In North Carolina, the Commander of Camp Lejeune made the decision not to evacuate, noting that the majority of Camp Lejeune, despite its coastal location, is not in a flood zone. Nonetheless, Camp Lejeune was directly in the path of Hurricane Florence and had to deal with wind, rain and flooding (even if it wasn’t a result of storm surge), with widespread power outages and other utility impacts, and impacts to marine corps civilians and miltiary families outside the base.
In Virginia, the leadership at Norfolk Naval Station made the decision to send its ships out to sea in anticipation of the storm, and bases up and down the Atlantic coast sent their aircraft inland to avoid storm damage. While Virginia installations appear to have escaped with minimal impacts, we are tracking impacts across North Carolina: not only at Camp Lejeune, but at New River Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Fort Bragg. Stay tuned for updates on that front.
In South Carolina, impacts were more limited, as the storm passed further north than initially anticipated, and installations such as Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot cancelled its evacuation order and resumed training activities.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense, the National Guard and the Coast Guard, as of September 17, have collectively devoted around 16,000 personnel to rescue missions – a number that could rise over the coming days as waters rise in North Carolina.
For more on impacts to the military across the region as of September 15, see this recent Stars & Stripes article.
Last year, Congress had to appropriate $1.2 billion in supplemental funds to DoD alone to recover from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. It’s far too early to start estimating costs from this season, but Hurricane Florence looks like it’s going to open the season with a significant impact. As the climate continues to change, these extreme rainfall risks to our nation’s military installations are likely to increase. In that context, it’s in our direct national security interest to reduce the scale and scope of these changes, and to invest in measures to adapt, and adapt quickly.