The extent of the devastation visited on Maine by last week’s storm has highlighted the urgent need for a robust approach to mitigation and adaptation, one that rises to the immense challenge of being faced with “100-year weather events” with far greater frequency.

According to a May study published in the journal Climatic Change, the northeastern United States will experience a 51.6% rise in extreme precipitation by 2100.

We’ve been faced with this evidence of climate change for a while.

In the latest and most challenging example of it in Maine, last Monday’s storm dumped 6 inches of rain on some parts of the state. Flooding and other damage led to the closure of more than 100 state roads. The Maine Department of Transportation took it upon itself to close 36 bridges statewide. Downed wires challenged communication to first responders – and everybody else.

Tens of thousands of Mainers spent days without power; by Wednesday night, more than 100,000 Central Maine Power customers were still without. A state of civil emergency was declared in all but two of Maine’s 16 counties.

2023 had already been a bruising year for extreme weather in Maine. “The amount of flash flood warnings and flood advisories are almost double the amount of the next-highest year,” meteorologist Derek Schroeter told the Press Herald. The next-highest year was 1998.


Flooding causes untold damage throughout the U.S.; by one estimate, it accounts for 90% of the damage from natural disasters annually. The Maine Climate Council estimates that climate-related flooding could cost up to $2.4 billion in total building losses and another $2.6 billion a year in jobs. That’s without getting into danger that severe storms pose to the general public.

Despite the increasing prevalence of stronger and more damaging storms and more devastating flooding, the American approach continues to focus more on remediation than it does on mitigation. When things get really severe, we take action – the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provided Vermont with $20 million for voluntary buyouts of at-risk homes after its record flooding – but too often we wait to reach a tipping point, with all of the devastation and misery that brings.

The Biden administration has shepherded in a meaningful amount of federal funding for investment in infrastructure. The Infrastructure and Jobs Act sets aside more than $50 billion for new spending on water infrastructure. Even then, the Environmental Protection Agency has suggested that is a fraction of the investment needed for “water, wastewater, and stormwater system enhancement and restoration,” meaning elected representatives in D.C. must push for more. At the local level, stormwater fees should be adjusted to cover the real cost of infrastructure upgrades and the appointment of committees and officials dedicated to this work.

How do we design for prevention? By investing heavily in planning and civil engineering that identifies the greatest points of weakness in our communities and devises sustainable, appropriate solutions. United States Geological Survey employees were hard at work in Maine last week trying to capture “critical perishable data,” information about where flood lines reached and for how long. As a Kennebec Journal report noted: “Without good data, good planning and preparation can’t happen.”

The information they gathered will ultimately be handed over to those afore-mentioned engineers, ideally informing the development of new evacuation routes, specifications for bridges, new building codes and models for better and more accurate forecasting of floods’ likelihood and magnitude. The data will also be used to check the accuracy of existing FEMA flood insurance maps.

Part of prevention is communication. Last week’s storm didn’t come as a surprise to meteorologists; its severity did. While nobody wants to drop what they’re doing and routinely prepare for the worst, everything we’ve seen recently suggests that – particularly at certain times of year; snow melt was a major exacerbating factor last week – it would be better for the authorities, businesses and individuals to act with an abundance of caution.

Community response matters. As we noted in our last editorial, Mainers stepped up to help each other in impressive ways last week. We can take that attitude and apply it to rigorous pursuit of safer environments and better-oiled systems.

“Maine people, we’re no strangers to hard times,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a midweek address. “We’ve been through a lot lately, the last few years. … I know in Maine that the burden is heavy right now, but it is not more than we can carry.”

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