Perception holds that change is slow. Sea levels creep upwards, nibbling at protective dunes and the footings of beachside houses. We will witness climate change unfolding as a slow motion disaster, best seen in reverse and through time lapse. Perceptions are wrong.
Many things lead up to a calamity, one great enough that the landscape is forever changed. The undoing of Florida began in the early twentieth century as the everglades were channelized and drained. Fires ate away the dry surface of the once vast marsh, destroying what oxidation tried to accomplish in decades. Little by little, the surface of the everglades sank. This is the slow process, the lead up to the inevitable when everything is in place, waiting for the event to undermine it all.
Hurricane Lempert began life as a wave off Africa like all the others. It came mid-season when the ocean throughout the Caribbean reached epic temperatures in the summer of 2042. Coral reefs dissolved in hot water acid baths, allowing waves to rip at once protected islands. This had already been an active hurricane season with eleven named hurricanes by mid-August. The storm that became Lempert created a weary wince for meteorologists when it formed.
Though headlines bemoaned the damage by two earlier hurricanes that made landfall, the truth is the damage by them was on par with historic records. Beach front homes were lost, sailboats destroyed, and a few bridges closed for repairs. They had been a category two and a week three. Both had been brushes rather than direct hits.
Lempert formed quickly, jumping from a tropical storm to a category two hurricane in one day. It ravaged tropical islands, screaming to a category three before collapsing on itself. For a brief four hour period, meteorologists debated where it would go and if it might simply fizzle as it stalled in the northern Caribbean.
What the storm was doing was rebuilding its strength.
As the sun set on August 18, 2042, Lempert grew into a monster. By morning, it was a category four hurricane heading straight for Florida. Evacuations were ordered, flights and roads jammed by the departing. There was no stopping the storm. Briefly before the landmass of the peninsula affected the racing clouds of Lempert’s vast edge, the hurricane attained category five. Wind speeds reached 170 mph, a few gusts were off the charts. And then the storm hit.
Starting at the tip of Florida, Lempert churned up the eastern coastline of Florida as if destined to destroy the state. Record rain fell, mixing with the storm surge while the wind resculpted the landscape. Entire towns blew away while others were drowned. One third of Miami fell to the seas. What wasn’t destroyed in Miami became an island.
When the storm finally took an abrupt turn eastward as it scraped Georgia, thanks to a high pressure system, not a Floridian household was unaffected by the storm. Those in the panhandle and along the western coast had erosion and flooding to deal with from the rain. They were lucky.
The southern quarter of Florida was under water. A few islands sat amid a shallow new sea. The everglades were gone. Thousands of homes were destroyed. Three cities were abandoned. The number of lives lost was estimated at over 100,000 but the amount of destruction and the disruption to lives was too great to make an exact tally.
Miami tried to rebuild as an island city, but the cost of recreating a city undermined by waves and ripped apart by wind proved too difficult. Estimates to removed damaged buildings to make way for new construction were so exorbitant that it led one politician to say the now famous quote, “We might as well just blow the whole thing up and start over.” With no septic treatment and limited access to fresh water, efforts were quickly curtailed. Miami became the first US city abandoned due to climate change in the twenty-first century, though it was hardly the first town.
A few weeks later when the next storm formed in the Atlantic, everyone panicked. Thankfully, it never reached the US, unleashing its damage elsewhere while the US tried not to buckle under its most recent blow.