New York City’s Climate Change Problem Has Gone from Bad to Worse

A flood almost took out my car in the middle of one of the busiest highways in America. Here’s why I’m still shaken.

New York City’s Climate Change Problem Has Gone from Bad to Worse
Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash

You know, there are certain moments where you read about climate change and just kind of shrug it off. You may feel a twinge of worry, or maybe just a little bit of a taste of guilt for that plastic bag you threw out. Then, you say, “Ah, it didn’t happen near me. Maybe it’s not so bad.”

Today, reality fucking hit me in the face. Hard.

As I was going home from a show, I had to make a quick cut through the George Washington Bridge. This is something I have done before, but it was always in fairly decent weather. Today, rain from the tropical storm skirting the East Coast caused a downpour.

The downpour was bad. Like, the rain fell like cats and dogs, to the point that I started to see large swaths of puddles on I-95. This is somewhat normal, but then things went from bad to worse.

I started to see large, massive, and shockingly deep puddles forming on the road.

Rainy cityscape
Photo by Diego Gennaro on Unsplash

The puddles had to be somewhere between four to six inches deep — enough to potentially cause flooding in a lowered car, definitely. People started to shift into the center lane to avoid the inflow of water.

Then I heard something that sounded like water pouring as we got closer to the GWB. My husband and I looked up, and there was a literal waterfall coming off a bridge near a joiner. Eventually, our lane of traffic had to slow down to a near-standstill.

We powered on, but then something terrifying happened.

I felt the ghost leave my body after a car barreled by next to mine.

The car, a large SUV, was going about 20 miles an hour, causing a massive wall of water to hit my car’s windshield. You know how having water hit your windshield usually makes a slapping noise? This wasn’t a slapping noise.

It was a “CLONK” noise. That’s how much water hit my window.

The sheer amount of water totally blinded me and took several seconds for wipers to remove enough to regain visibility. I slowed down to a near stop after thinking I was going to hit something. Somehow, we got out unscathed.

The guy in the other car? Not so much. We saw his car pulled over in a center median about five minutes later, presumably waterlogged due to what he just did to us. By the time I got home, I was still shaken from seeing that.

It was then that I realized something: New York is really, truly in trouble.

Ossiana in a Brooklyn warehouse
The author in a Brooklyn warehouse, circa 2022?

You know, I haven’t squatted in an NYC warehouse for about 15 years. I live pretty close to the city, but for me, it was always one of those weird phenomena where you never really have news headlines about flooding truly sink in.

In my mind, it was theoretically sinking. My mind kept saying, “No, that can’t happen to New York. New York is permanent and you were just there. It’s fine.”

It just didn’t sink in, no matter how many news lines and clips I saw.

I mean, we’ve all seen the alarming announcement that New York City is sinking into the sea, right? We’ve also seen clips of entire subways being flooded to the point that people are borderline swimming in sewer water, right?

Okay, if you’re not local to the area, let me show you.

Floods like this are becoming more and more frequent throughout the five boroughs. While New Yorkers might treat this like an inconvenience at times, the truth is that it’s really shocking.

I assume that there are few things that can be as panic-inducing as realizing you’re in a subway car, underground, and filthy wastewater is pooling up to your ankles.

Or, you know, if you’re this lady, your ankles might be the least of your worries.

I honestly don’t believe New York City will survive climate change.

It breaks my heart to say this, but it’s the truth. New York is already struggling with record temperatures and increasing floods. New York City has a lot of problems that are currently turning the city into a ticking timebomb:

Need I say more?

New York is an island city optimized for a world that no longer exists.

New York aerial
Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

There. I said the thing out loud that no one who has such an emotional connection to the place wants to say. New York City is a dying city and it’s not going to be around for much longer.

It’s not just the sky-high cost of living killing the city off, though the corporate greed landlords have absolutely isn’t helping. Living in New York is going to become increasingly risky because climate change will pose a serious problem.

It’s the actual infrastructure, the layout, and the buildings that it has. It’s the millions upon millions of lights that are powered by an electricity grid increasingly at risk of ruin from repeated flooding. It’s the subways that can flood up to your waist.

There will be a moment when officials will have to reckon with horrific building collapses as a result of the weakened supports underneath. I mean, what happens if a sinkhole ends up destabilizing a skyscraper? That’s absolutely in the realm of possibility here.

I don’t know if New York City can adapt in time to change its ways. I do know that it will be around for the next three decades, but after that? It might end up being a location in history books — and that’s one of the most devastating things I realized about climate change.

Read more of Ossiana Tepfenhart's work here on Substack.

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