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On indoor air conditioning, snowbirds, and the threat of a major hurricane heading for Florida
It is a strange phenomenon indeed for Franklin, a Category Four hurricane demonstrating record-setting characteristics (like a barometric low unprecedented for its latitude) to be the less important of two tropical events taking place at the same time. And yet, that is the present case as a tropical storm glances Cuba en route to even warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
■ The warmer-than-usual waters of the Gulf are setting up the storm named Idalia to intensify swiftly and mightily as it heads for Florida's Gulf Coast. The storm is likely to demonstrate in remarkable terms just how much the atmosphere acts as a mechanism for redistributing energy -- and there is a great deal of potential energy floating in the Gulf.
■ For well over a generation, America has been concentrating more and more of our population in southern latitudes and along our coastlines. These are the somewhat predictable consequences of modern air conditioning and an aging population that doesn't have much taste for the continental climate.
■ But just as tropical storms act to reallocate energy from the sea to the atmosphere, policymakers at all levels need to reallocate their attention to risk and risk mitigation. The status quo is proving costly in terms of lives and disruption, and it's evident that those in the path of storms subject to rapid intensification will need to do even more to harden their defenses and build up home-grown resiliency in new and innovative ways. If an event can jump from "tropical storm" to "major hurricane" in less than a day, then evacuation may be a dwindling option.
■ At the same time, those living beyond the reach of those storms -- in places where the danger comes from winter cold, not summer heat -- need to invest thought and civic energy into making their places more livable and even attractive for the whole of the calendar year, and for the full life cycle of ordinary people.
■ The United States is a great big country, with plenty of room to move around and experiment. It would do us all some good to see creative thinking applied to matters of resilience where dangers are growing, and of livability where cold-weather discomfort presently chases too many people away.