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Aug 10

Derecho and Living in the “between disasters” Era

Posted on August 10, 2021 at 7:59 AM by Britt Nielsen

Derecho damaged woodlands

Looking back exactly one year at the derecho of August 10, 2020, many Linn County residents are still recovering and wondering how could a disaster of this magnitude impact us with the severity that it did? Are disasters of this scale going to become the norm? Linn County Sustainability Program Manager Tamara Marcus wrote a guest post for the Linn County Connection addressing disasters like this and what we as a community can do to safeguard our community from the next disaster. Here is what she said:

As a climate scientist, I often focus on the numbers- how many degrees will the Earth’s oceans rise, what is the profile of our community greenhouse gas emissions, how many natural disasters have we had and what is the cost, etc. Numbers and data can be useful metrics to understand our collective impact on our natural world. But we are creatures moved by stories and are often compelled to action when we personally witness the impact, to ourselves and our neighbors, of a disastrous event. The derecho storm on August 10, 2020 proved this to be true. Many of us didn’t think twice to lend a hand and work together to respond to this devastating event, clearing trees, bringing hot meals to loved ones and strangers alike, and opening our homes, outlets, refrigerators and washing machines. We banded together as a community, united in our quest to respond and to recover. Many of us were not asked to do this, we did it because that’s what our community does- we take care of one another because it is simply the right thing to do. 

This is exactly the energy and mentality that the climate crisis calls for- the collective will to put aside our differences, help each other, and to do the right thing for people and the planet. Though derecho was a terrifyingly destructive event, there are constructive takeaways. For example, there is a collective understanding that our community is both incredibly resilient and simultaneously exhausted from having to be so resilient consistently. Derecho was our third natural disaster event in 12 years, and though we have gotten pretty good at responding to flood events (as was demonstrated by the community’s response to the almost flood of 2016), this did not prepare us for the unexpected derecho storm. In short, our disaster response skills are not fully transferable to every or “the next” disaster.  And we now live in the “between disasters” era- it is not a question of if another will happen, only a matter of when. 

So what can we do now? Having lost over 50% of our tree canopy, numerous housing developments, and disrupting complex social networks that provide much needed support for working class families, there is much still to do. But I have no doubt that our community is up to the task. And since we have to rebuild, let’s ensure that the systems and structures we create (physical and not) are stronger and more resilient than the ones we are replacing. We need to make significant investments in renewable energy, affordable net-zero housing, and improve access to local food and broadband. “But won’t this cost money?” you may ask. And the answer is, absolutely. But the derecho event alone cost our community $11 billion to respond to. We will pay for the effects of climate change, one way or another. The question is, do we want to make those investments before the next disaster, helping to keep people safer and reduce disruptions to our physical and social infrastructure or do we want to continue to respond on the back-end of these events? 

We need to take an extensive look at our systems and institutional structures and be honest with where and how we can make the improvements necessary to safeguard our community from the next disaster event. And we should not despair! This is an opportunity to do better, to become stronger and more resilient, and to bring our community together. We can do it because we have already done it before. The best way to remember the derecho event is to lean into the climate action work that must happen here in Linn County. Local climate action is now more important than ever.

Note: Linn County recently released its first greenhouse gas inventory (PDF) and one step that everyone can take toward a more resilient future is to attend one of the public engagement events