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NYC prepares for the climate crisis by flooding subway entrances

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New Yorkers are used to seeing pretty weird things on the subway... but this week, one NY resident saw something that made her do a serious double take: a very flooded subway entrance, even though it had not been raining. The MTA was quick to respond to her tweet and explain that the flood was an intentional test to protect the subway from increased flooding, which the MTA links to the mounting climate crisis.

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, New York-based illustrator Kaye Blegvad tweeted a photo of the Broadway G train subway station entrance in Brooklyn. In the photo, the staircase is blocked off with a fence, covered with a tarp, and completely flooded with water. “MTA explain yourself,” Blegvad captioned the image, addressing NYC’s transit authority.

“We were testing a new ‘flex gate,’ which is a flood barrier that would allow us to seal off a subway entrance,” the MTA responded to Blegvad’s viral tweet. “We ‘test flood’ the entrance for four hours to make sure it was installed correctly, which it was!” The responder then explained why the MTA is preparing for foods in the first place: “We're doing this because climate change is real.”

The MTA tweeted a video that shows how the flex gate works to prevent subway stations from flooding during natural disasters like hurricanes. Basically, the flex gate stops water from getting into the subway station by sealing off the staircase and collecting the water on top.

Someone responded to the MTA’s tweets and criticized the group for “wast[ing] more money on these ideas,” noting that flooding can occur in other areas of subway stations besides the staircases. Another MTA representative replied, explaining that these measures were created as a response to 2012’s destructive Hurricane Sandy. 

Sandy did billions of dollars of damage (literally) so we're not taking any chances for the next one,” the MTA wrote. “These devices are to prevent impacts from storm surge, not the kind of flooding we see during heavy rains. We're also protecting thousands of sidewalk vents (literally).”

As the MTA spokesperson suggested, there is a significant link between the climate crisis and flooding. According to the NRDC, floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S. — and as global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, experts predict that the country’s floodplains will grow by 45 percent by the end of the century. Additionally, U.S. coastal flooding has doubled over the past 30 years, as reported by Inside Climate News, based on an NOAA report.

As explained in the IPCC’s report on Changes in Climate Extremes, a variety of factors can affect flooding. “There is low confidence (due to limited evidence) that anthropogenic climate change has affected the magnitude or frequency of floods, though it has detectably influenced several components of the hydrological cycle such as precipitation and snowmelt (medium confidence to high confidence), which may impact flood trends,” reads the IPCC report. Essentially, while the climate crisis in itself does not directly cause flooding, the climate crisis is causing new climate patterns like increased precipitation and natural disasters (such as hurricanes), which can lead to higher flood rates. 

And while most people probably don’t think of New York City as a coastal town, Manhattan is in fact an island, and all five boroughs are surrounded by water, putting NYC at risk for both coastal flooding and urban flooding.