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How to stay safe in hurricanes, wildfires and summer's intensity


The official start of hurricane season is only 10 days away. And climate change is helping these storms get stronger and more deadly. Wildfires are also getting worse. Over the past 20 years, they've become larger, more frequent and more widespread across the United States. Already this year, large fires in Texas and New Mexico have caused thousands of residents to evacuate their homes. In the face of so much potential for extreme weather events and natural disasters, how should we plan to stay safe? Kendra Pierre-Louis is a climate reporter at Gimlet, and she joins us now from New York City to share some practical advice. Welcome.

KENDRA PIERRE-LOUIS: Thanks for having me, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So you've covered climate change for several years now, and last week, you sounded the alarm on Twitter writing, for a lot of the country, this summer is going to suck. Can you tell us why that's the case?

PIERRE-LOUIS: I feel like, as a climate reporter, you start to learn to dread summer. And I was just thinking about how, between the epic fire season that's already underway, the exacerbating drought out west and the fact that the oceans are just so warm, that a lot of people are going to have to evacuate, are going to have to be on the move, are going to, unfortunately, lose their homes, and that we need to start preparing for that inevitability now.

RASCOE: And so that's why this summer in particular stands out.

PIERRE-LOUIS: Yeah, completely. NOAA has not yet made their official hurricane season prediction, but....

RASCOE: And when you talk about NOAA, you're talking about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, right?

PIERRE-LOUIS: Right, that Colorado State has and they've been doing it for about 40 years. And this prediction from Colorado is actually really scary because they're not predicting more storms. They're actually saying that they think there are going to be fewer storms than there were last year. But the storms that we have, they think, are going to be more intense and they're going to sort of linger longer. And so these sort of long-lasting, slow-moving storms are especially catastrophic. And when you have these kinds of weather events, it's so much harder for help to get to you. So it's really important, when you're thinking about preparedness, to be thinking about just - what do I need in my go bag? Do I have flood insurance? These are all things that you need to do, but you need to be thinking about preparedness in terms of levels.

RASCOE: People hear this - the Earth is getting hotter, there's going to be more extreme weather. But there's not often, like, a lot of practical advice. So can you break down the levels of preparedness that you recommend people to go through?

PIERRE-LOUIS: Sort of at a base level is, like, what do you need if you need to get out? What do you do if you have 5 minutes to evacuate? What if you have a couple of days, right? Because, like, if there's a hurricane coming, you have more time, generally, to evacuate than if, potentially, a wildfire hits your home, right? So, like, thinking through these sort of scenarios, but then you have to take it a step back. So is your house insured? What kind of insurance is on your home? Do you have a catalogue of everything that's in your home? And if you don't have a catalogue, can you walk through and take a video of everything with an iPhone so, if you lose it, you can prove to your insurance company that you had it in the first place, right?

And then in your preparedness bag - in, like, the thing that you're going to grab, you need, like, food. You need some water depending on where you live. You need, like, clothes. You need medication - prescription drugs if you're on medication. Do you have pets? Do you have pet food? What are you going to do with your animals, right? But then also the next level is, like, who's around you? Who are your neighbors? Who are your friends? Where are you evacuating to? Do you have a conversation with, like - if something goes down, I can go to this person. If something goes down for them, they can come to me.

RASCOE: And you know, for the larger context, obviously, it's not just this summer and, like, extreme weather events are becoming more common. I think I know the answer to this question, but should people be reexamining how they choose to live and where they choose to live?

PIERRE-LOUIS: Yeah, so on a macro scale, there are, like, two things that we need to do. We need to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. That's a given. We need to act on climate change. And to the other side, we need to start pushing our communities about where we zone, where we allow people to live and where we don't allow people to live. Everyone who's in a risky neighborhood can't necessarily leave. We often focus on people who live in very fancy homes - you know, fancy waterfront property and we're like, what were they thinking? But lots of people don't necessarily live in such fancy situations and they're living in places that are perilous because they don't have any other option. And so while, yes, we should strongly be encouraging those people to not live in those areas, the way that you do that is also by giving them a place that is not so perilous to live in.

RASCOE: Kendra Pierre-Louis, climate reporter at Gimlet, thank you so much for being with us.

PIERRE-LOUIS: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.