Another storm pounds the North Carolina coast (sort of)

Did Hurricane Sandy violate the State Legislature’s restriction on sea level rise?

Last summer the North Carolina Legislature and governor reached a compromise on a law that forbids coastal planning to take into account accelerated sea level rise and its attendant threat to coastal infrastructure.

But even so, our pesky climate system did its thang … again.

The sea rose up and inundated North Carolina’s famed barrier islands, the Outer Banks.

This time it was Hurricane Sandy that did the battering. And while the state was not even close to being the hardest hit (New Jersey gets that dubious distinction), the storm that “stayed well off the North Carolina Coast” before gathering into a superstorm still gave Duke’s home state a good whipping. And nowhere was that more clear than the flooded Highway 12 — the transportation lifeline that connects the barrier islands to each other and to the mainland.

NC Highway 12 damaged by Hurricane Sandy

NC Highway 12 damaged by Hurricane Sandy (NC DOT)

Outer Banks after Hurricane Sandy

North Carolina’s Outer Banks sustain damages from Hurricane Sandy (NC DOT)

NC 12 in the wake of Sandy

NC 12 in the wake of Sandy (NC DOT)

(For more photos of damage, see the “Hurricane Sandy Impacts” gallery at the NC Department of Transportation’s Flickr site or the photo gallery of Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.)

Sadly, such Highway 12 washouts are not unusual. In fact, it was just about a year ago in October 2011 that the highway reopened after recovering from Hurricane Irene’s devastation in August 2011. (See photos of Irene’s impact.)

OK, OK, so the Outer Banks damage wasn’t caused by sea level rise, per se. But perhaps you can allow a bit of poetic license? While much of the American political establishment and political hopefuls (see here and here) seem to be in climate-change denial, Hurricane Sandy provides a timely reminder in North Carolina (and beyond) of the rising-seas-and-stronger-storms-damage anticipated from climate change.

While some have averred that keeping NC Highway 12 “is a lost cause,” the U.S. Department of Transportation has released $4 million in emergency funds to repair this key artery along with Highway 158. As they say, when it comes to climate change: pay now by planning and mitigating or pay later rebuilding. Something to think about as the East Coast braces for another (winter) storm, expected Wednesday.

Post Updated 11/6, 11:35 a.m.
Another resource for photos of storm’s damage added.

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