Hurricanes have some serious weaponry when they make landfall. There are the horrifying winds that can rip the structure apart where you seek shelter, and then there is storm surge, a tsunami-like phenomenon that can break bones while drowning anyone in its path. Flooding from torrential rains can go on for days, wreaking havoc in urban and rural areas alike.
Climate change is making all three weapons worse by enabling more powerful, but slow-moving, cyclones throughout the world. When a storm slows down, the wrecking ball gusts are dragged out for a much larger timeframe, while amplifying the damage to the structure. And because of global warming, oceans are now hotter, pumping more and more moisture into the cyclone. That moisture comes down as heavy rainfall like what happened in Texas during Hurricane Harvey.
As the country holds its collective breath, powerful hurricane Florence is promising to deliver catastrophic damage to the Carolinas.
In eastern North Carolina, home to the state’s industrial farm industry, Florence will more than likely kill livestock and release feces and urine from holding ponds, due to a mind-blowing potential of 2-4 feet of rainfall from the stalled wind storm.
Hurricane Florence threatens to kill thousands of farm animals and trigger catastrophic spills of waste as it bears down on a Carolina coastal region dotted with sewage treatment plants, hog waste lagoons, poultry farms and coal ash ponds.
Past hurricanes, including Matthew in 2016, caused numerous spills from sewage treatment plants and livestock farms, complicating the task of cleaning up after the storm. Florence poses an even more serious risk, especially if the Category 4 hurricane parks itself over the region and dumps record amounts of rain.
Soil in much of the Carolinas is already saturated by several months of rainfall, adding to the potential risk of flooding and the collapse of earthen lagoons containing hog manure, coal ash or other types of waste.
Most hog farms manage their waste by depositing it in earthen pits, known as lagoons, and spraying it on nearby fields. During big storms, uncovered lagoons — especially those that haven’t been drawn down — can fill up with rain and overflow.
NPR reports, in a correction to their 9-11-18 story, that farmers who plan to empty the holding ponds in anticipation of heavy rains by increasing the spraying of waste on fields, will not be allowed to spray the waste after all. “A previous Web version of this story said that a state of emergency in North Carolina allows farmers to spray more manure on more fields. This is not the case. The state of emergency does temporarily remove restrictions on the size and weight of trucks carrying livestock, poultry or animal feed”. I suspect, that emptying the ponds would be guaranteed to enter flood waters and that officials hope that the retaining walls of the lagoon will contain the waste.
Here's the really bad scenario: Water starts overflowing and erodes the lagoon wall, causing a wall to collapse, spreading animal waste across the landscape and into rivers.
Rising rivers could also inundate some low-lying lagoons and hog houses. About 60 of them lie within what the state of North Carolina considers the 100-year-flood plain. Animals in those houses may need to be evacuated for the flood waters rise.
There used to be more swine in the flood plain, but after Hurricane Floyd, in 1999, the state bought out some hog farmers in low-lying areas and shut them down.
Some lagoons flooded again during Hurricane Matthew, two years ago, but lagoon walls didn't collapse.
Those lagoons are full of nothing but feces and urine. In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now in 2017, David Fries, the filmmaker that exposed the factory farms that spray the waste “on nearby fields” (see video below) spoke to Steve Wing, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Public Health, who described what happens at these farms. As in most environmental crimes, the victims are usually people of color and the poor.
STEVE WING: The waste falls through the floors. It’s flushed out into an open pit, like a cesspool. It’s easy for a big hog operation to have as much waste as a medium-sized city. Of course, the pit will fill up, so it has to be emptied. And they’re emptied by spraying the liquid waste.
MARK DEVRIES: Yes, you heard that right.
STEVE WING: If you’re familiar with a garden sprayer, they’re gigantic versions of that. So they’re making droplets and fine mists out of this liquid waste. And that can drift downwind into the neighboring communities.
AMY GOODMAN: Residents living in the area of the spray complain of odor so bad it limits their ability to be outdoors, and adverse health effects. House Bill 467, or the Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies bill, was introduced by Republican State Representative Jimmy Dixon, a longtime farmer, who has received campaign contributions from the hog industry.
Speaking at a hearing about the legislation, Dixon said, quote, “These claims are at best enormous exaggerations and at worst outright lies. Is there some odor? Yes. But I would like you to close your eyes and imagine how ham and sausage and eggs and fried chicken smell,” he said. The legislation comes as a class action suit brought by nearly 500 primarily African-American residents of eastern North Carolina seek financial compensation from Murphy-Brown, the state’s largest hog producer. The lawsuits have now moved to federal court.
House Bill 467 greatly reduces the financial payout to victims of “hog nuisance” lawsuits. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the 2018 state budget that included the bill, but Republican legislators voted to override Cooper's veto. Republicans hold a veto-proof supermajority in the Senate and NC House. The bill is now law, benefiting hog farmers who fund politicians like Jimmy Dixon.
Below, filmmaker Mark Devries exposes the animal cruelty and the environmental crimes of North Carolina's factory hog industry.
In 2012, North Carolina legislators passed a billthat barred policymakers and developers from using up-to-date climate science to plan for rising sea levels on the state’s coast. Now Hurricane Florence threatens to cause a devastating storm surge that could put thousands of lives in danger and cost the state billions of dollars worth of damage.
And the rise in sea levels, experts say, is making the storm surge worse.
Sea level rise is a direct consequence of global warming; the warming of the ocean has resulted in thermal expansion and melted ice sheets and glaciers that are causing the oceans to rise. Since 1950, the sea level has risen 6.5 inches ― a number that sounds small but has actually had major consequences across the country.
“Sea level rising, simply put, makes every coastal flood deeper and more destructive,” said Ben Strauss, CEO of Climate Central, a climate change research organization that has published dozens of studies about rising sea levels and the risks of ignoring the problem. “Ignoring it is incredibly dangerous.”