In The Age Of Climate Change, Irene Has Prepared Vermont For Future Emergencies

Aug 25, 2016

As Tropical Storm Irene roared through Vermont, I was at home in the Northeast Kingdom, anxiously waiting for the rain and winds to make their way to my house in Lyndonville. A reporter at the time, I’d placed my hip boots, rain jacket and pants by the door, filled my car’s gas tank, and was ready to head out into the weather to report on damage and talk to victims.

As it turned out, Irene pretty much missed most of the Kingdom, except for a few low-lying riverfront areas. Sure, there were wet basements and some nasty mudslides, but when FEMA set up its satellite office in Lyndonville Town Hall, few people showed up needing help.

But last February, once again with little warning, unseasonable floods did strike Lyndonville, and forced the evacuation of a large mobile home park – providing us with a strong reminder that it doesn’t necessarily take a statewide, 100-year storm to wreak havoc on a neighborhood, town or region.

In this time of mind-boggling climate change, a destructive rain or snowstorm could happen just about anywhere, anytime, and not just in historically flood-prone areas.

This summer, a tornado touched down in Concord, Massachusetts, damaging about 40 homes. And in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where flooding is rarely fatal, 13 lives were lost in recent, unprecedented storms.

To show how prepared a given Vermont community or county may be to withstand future brutal treatment from Mother Nature, an interactive website called FloodreadyVermont.gov displays lots of detailed information about what, exactly, each Vermont community has done to make sure it’s ready for the next big storm.

"In general, in the five years since Irene left her mark on Vermont history, the state seems to have heeded her wake-up call."

As the website’s charts and graphs reveal, some towns have done more than others to shore up roads and bridges, improve natural flood mitigation with wetlands or forested watersheds, and protect buildings. Some towns have comprehensive emergency management plans. Others, not so much.

But in general, in the five years since Irene left her mark on Vermont history, the state seems to have heeded her wake-up call.

Chris Herrick, Vermont’s Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, says no state can ever be 100 percent ready for everything, but notes that about 85 percent of Vermont towns have now updated emergency management plans.

And for that he says we have Irene to thank.

The historic storm that was, in most other respects, a terrible way for the summer to end, five years ago this week.