For most folks, June 1st passes much like any other day (although it is Oscar the Grouch’s birthday and official “flip a coin” day), but for people who call the Gulf coast home, it’s a significant day on the calendar. It marks the start of hurricane season, which runs until November 30.
Like many people, I find myself equally fearful of and fascinated by these intense weather events. Talk to anyone who’s lived on the coast for more than 5 years and I bet they have a hurricane story for you. I personally learned about latitude and longitude by tracking Hurricane Gilbert as it marched towards Texas in September of 1988. I spent a long night and morning in Mobile, Alabama listening to Katrina howl her way into history as one of the nation’s most devastating disasters.
Friends who live in other parts of the country always have the same question for me this time of year, “Why do you live on the coast? If you don’t want to get hit by a hurricane, don’t live there.” My answer is always the same: This is my home. I carry this place so deep inside me that there is no force strong enough to untether me from the Gulf. Not even a hurricane.
Here’s the thing. People have lived on the Gulf coast for thousands of years. What’s different now is that we’ve forgotten how to live with water, forgotten that no matter how much we try to engineer it into submission, nature will always be wild and unpredictable. The Gulf ecosystem is capable of weathering hurricanes and providing some protection to communities, but only if we recognize the vital role our resources play in protecting us.
Consider wetlands. Wetlands act as buffers when a storm hurtles toward shore. Marshes and wetlands reduce the height of waves and storm surge and slows the movement of water toward our communities. Yet we are losing them at alarming rates due to erosion, development and sea level rise. In Louisiana alone, we lose the equivalent of 32 football fields of wetlands every single day.
Restoring vital resources like wetlands not only helps support our wildlife, it makes our communities stronger and more resilient. So next time you see The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore coming to you live from the Gulf, remember that it’s not just the critters who live here who need our resources to thrive, it’s every person who makes a home here.