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Goodnight Irene?

Putting a few hurricane-related environmental questions to bed.

Hurricane Irene has left the scene, but the storm triggered many environment-related questions, some that I’ve been asked again and again ever since, including:

1. Did the hurricane impact our local beaches?

Coastal erosion is an ongoing issue for any waterfront area, and Long Island (with 188 miles of coastline in Nassau County alone!) is no exception. Hurricanes, of course, call attention to the issue. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has estimated that a significant portion of Long Island’s coastline is in high erosion hazard areas, and Nassau County South Shore beaches have a long-term erosion rate of 1 to 4 feet per year, without considering unusual storm activity.

Losses caused by Hurricane Irene to homeowners living beachfront and nearby aside, our potential shared loss of some stretches of our favorite beaches, including state-owned Jones Beach and Town of Hempstead parks, are at issue. Officials report that it will take some time to fully assess the extent of erosion and dune damage. On the Monday after the hurricane hit, a town spokesman said, “There was a significant loss of sand reported at Town of Hempstead beaches. At this point, the town does not have specifics, but will soon be sharing quantitative information with FEMA.”

2. What should I do about downed trees?

After a major storm, toppled trees are always a concern. First, stay clear if you see any loose wires.  Also, keep in mind for the future that tree damage is often prevented with regular pruning and proper irrigation, according to Certified Arborist Julie Seghrouchni of the Cornell Cooperative Extension/Nassau at Eisenhower Park. “These practices would probably save money and lives,” she said.  Once damage is done, “toppled trees should be pruned back to sound wood,” Seghrouchni said.  “A moderate to large amount of the tree canopy may have to be pruned because of the extensive root damage.” To leave things to professionals, call on Island Greenery or Old Mill Nursery. For disposal, see town information.

3. Why are there so many mosquitoes and bees around now? 

Hurricanes often destroy nests, including those of mosquitoes and bees. Bug sprays are available at Ace Hardware or Home Depot, but check the label for toxicity and follow directions. Or go with natural repellents or look for organic sprays that irritate insects enough to cause them to steer clear of you and your yard. 

4. Do homes with wind or solar power retain electricity during a storm?

It’s a myth that wind or solar powered homes keep running when the rest of the homes in the area lose electricity. “If there’s a power outage in your area, you will lose electricity just like everyone else,” said Dan Sabia of Built Well Solar Corp. in Bellmore. “Both solar and wind energy systems are designed to shut down because they are tied to the grid through LIPA’s power lines.” They shut off because feeding power to a home means power also would feed from a home, causing live wires and potentially electrocuting service repair technicians. Solar hot water systems, not grid-tied, do keep functioning, however, assuming there's sunshine!

5. Were the town’s wind/solar-powered shellfish beds damaged?

The Town of Hempstead's environmentally innovative shellfish beds, or Floating Upweller System (nicknamed FLUPSY), provides a controlled environment that force-feeds nutrient rich water to infant shellfish, allowing them to grow more quickly with a higher survival rate. This floating shellfish nursery is powered by a 10 kilowatt solar electricity system and a 2.4 kilowatt wind turbine, unreservedly environmentally friendly. “There was no reported damage to the Floating Upweller System,” a town spokesperson said after the hurricane. That’s great news for both the ecosystem and our local shellfish industry.

Do you have any environment-related post-hurricane questions? Please let the Green Gal know! E-mail her at nhiler@optonline.net or ask her in the comments section below.

About this column:  A column about our little 'patch' of Earth, and how we can all make it a little greener.

bass September 03, 2011 at 01:29 AM
Any research, legitimate, that backs up the idea that global warming is making hurricanes worse?
Nancy Hiler September 03, 2011 at 01:03 PM
The jury is still out, but all scientists agree that a link is possible. Although, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, there is a trend toward more intense hurricanes in recent years, there is no agreement on the reason. MIT researchers point to global warming, while University of Colorado researchers feel any link is premature, for example. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “it is ‘more likely than not’ (better than even odds) that there is a human contribution to the observed trend of hurricane intensification since the 1970s.” Closer to home, the Pew Center also reports that global warming is “redistributing storms” northward, making New York a greater target than ever before. Also, sea levels are rising around the city (local rates exceed the global average because the East Coast is slowly sinking geologically, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies reports), adding to our vulnerability here on Long Island. Thanks for the question, Bass!!!
Liz Berger September 03, 2011 at 01:37 PM
We had hot water throughout the storm period and have a direct-fired gas water heater. Are these environmentally friendly too as it was a blessing to have hot water throughout the loss of lights, phones & internet? I learn so much from your articles, keep 'em coming!
Nancy Hiler September 03, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Glad to hear you had hot water during the storm!! To find out about the technical advantages of various types of water heaters, you would need to rely on experts in that area, not me. As far as energy efficiency issues I do know that a direct-fired gas water heater is likely to be only as energy efficient as the heating system that powers it. And, a direct hook-up to your gas system is a great benefit during power outages, since most hot water is heated by a heating system reliant on electricity to power up. I have heard also of people hooking generators directly to their heating system to keep heating water temporarily during the outage also. But, you are still dependent on burning fossil fuels -- natural gas is still a fossil fuel (the one that used most often at power plants to generate electricity, too, by the way)! It's the cleanest fossil fuel they say, better than oil and coal, but still not considered environmentally friendly. Solar hot water (solar thermal) is the best choice environmentally, and, once the storm subsided and the sun came out, it continues to be heated daily by the heat of the sun during outages and the water stays hot many hours after the sun goes down. Thanks for the question, Liz!

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