Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on Sept. 28, carving a path of destruction through the state and killing more than 100 people. The real magnitude of Hurricane Ian’s death toll is still unknown, with media outlets reporting differing numbers as officials are still digging through debris some three weeks later. The last count I saw from ABC News said 127 dead.
The sheer scale of destruction “at best guess” is expected to reach $67 billion, according to modeling firm RMS, marking it as one of the top 10 costliest storms in U.S. history and twice the toll from Hurricane Andrew, which had previously been the most expensive storm to ever hit Florida back in 1992.
Fort Myers, along with Lee County’s barrier islands, took the brunt of Hurricane Ian’s Category 4 might, sustaining 150 mph winds and historic storm surge flooding. Many residents are without habitable homes and the path to recovery will be a long one. That’s not even including the fears regarding increasing insurance premiums — or worse, insurance companies declaring insolvency, unable to meet their financial obligations.
Much of the Hurricane Ian coverage was bad news on top of more bad news, except for one article I came across. CNN had a very interesting story of one community’s survival. Only 12 miles Northeast of Fort Myers — ground zero for Hurricane Ian — Babcock Ranch, a 100% solar community, survived the storm with minimal damage.
The 2,000-home neighborhood features a solar array made up of 700,000 individual panels, generating more electricity than needed. The streets in the neighborhood were designed to flood so that houses don’t, and native landscaping along roads help control storm surge. Power and internet lines are buried to avoid wind damage. To sum it up, Babcock Ranch was built with climate resiliency in mind in order to survive the growing trend of stronger storms.
While 2.6 million customers in the state lost power, the lights stayed on at Babcock Ranch. The worst of the damage was uprooted trees and missing shingles from roofs. In a time when decarbonization and electrification are at the forefront of the great energy debate, Babcock Ranch proves that resilient, eco-friendly communities can outlast even the toughest conditions. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
There’s no doubt that Hurricane Ian is part of a larger trend — climate change is making hurricanes and other natural disasters more violent and destructive. Plumbing and mechanical engineers need to keep this in mind when designing structures and communities alike. Not only must designs be energy efficient and economical for the customer, but they must also be resilient. It’s not just hurricanes, but floods, earthquakes and wildfires that need to be taken into account as well, especially in states like Louisiana and California.
The country needs more success stories like Babcock Ranch, especially in the face of such a disaster. And, as Henry Petroski once said, “As engineers, we were going to be in a position to change the world — not just study it.”