Michigan’s Upper Peninsula storm: “The new normal”

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By Gary Wilson

This story originally appeared on Great Lakes Now and is republished here with permission.

Is the extreme weather that wreaked havoc on parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a storm event that can be set aside as an aberration?

No, says science professor Nancy Langston who teaches at Michigan Technological University located in Houghton, ground zero for the storm.

Langston told Great Lakes Now that following similar historic storm events in 2012 and 2016, the 2018 version “should be considered the new normal.”

Langston is a Great Lakes researcher, environmental historian and author of “Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World.”

With the caveat that weather isn’t the climate, she hopes this storm serves as a wakeup call for the region to focus on preparation and ways to mitigate the effects of the next big weather event and climate change.

“We have to embrace mitigation so we aren’t constantly playing catch up,” Langston says.

In an official Declaration of Disaster, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said the storm caused “widespread and severe damage to infrastructure, homes, businesses and public facilities” in Houghton and Menominee counties.

The declaration also noted the public health threat from contaminants that could have been released into the environment as a result of the storm.

Great Lakes Now asked the governor’s office how Michigan can better prepare and provide funding to deal with future extreme weather in the Upper Peninsula, given its low population and small tax base.

“It’s critically important for Michigan to have plans and resources in place to respond quickly and appropriately when emergency situations occur,” Deputy Press Secretary Jordan Kennedy said.

The Michigan State Police facilitates preparedness trainings with local emergency managers and first responders with the support of federal grants that are administered by the state, according to Kennedy.

Thunder Bay, Ontario didn’t think adaptation and mitigation for climate change should be a priority until a massive 2012 storm destroyed 5,000 homes and left the wastewater treatment plant under 45 feet of water. The disaster prompted the city to embark on a strategy to become a climate-ready city.

Michigan Tech’s Langston says she is worried about the slow pace of planning for a future where extreme weather is the new normal.

“Many U.P. residents don’t seem to have a sense of urgency,” she says.

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