Every day during the Hurricane Harvey disaster, our hearts would sink as we kept hearing the word “unprecedented” again and again. Harvey wasn’t supposed to strengthen so fast; it shouldn’t have stalled where it did. Every day as we hoped the worst was over, Harvey would pummel us even harder.
Everything was outside the norm, breaking all records. Over 50 inches of rain. Houston’s “wettest month in recorded history.” High river marks exceeded by 10 feet. A total volume of rainwater four miles square and two miles tall. Millions of residents evacuated or sheltering in place in America’s fourth-largest city. All of them afraid.
Just days later came Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record, whose strength was matched only by its unpredictability. Who should evacuate and where? Then, in less than a week, Maria followed, destroying much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.
The shock of these powerful and unprecedented events in such quick succession rattles even the strongest. How do we ready ourselves for “unprecedented”?
While these disasters are unprecedented in many ways, they are not beyond imagination and not immune to safer and smarter policies.