Jul 12, 2023 - Podcasts

Northeast flooding puts the spotlight on rainfall data

Severe storms this week have caused historic flooding in the Northeast, especially Vermont. Data on this kind of flooding is critical, but the national data we rely on underestimates the risk.

Guests: Axios' Andrew Freedman, Adriel Bettelheim and Caitlin Owens.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, July 12th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today on the show: the push for new treatments against superbugs. Plus, the Biden administration takes another shot at affordable child care.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: Northeast flooding puts the spotlight on rainfall data.

NIALA: Severe storms in the Northeast this week have caused historic flooding, especially in Vermont. Residents across that state had to evacuate from their homes, and on Tuesday, President Biden approved Vermont's state of emergency declaration and ordered federal assistance. As more events like this happen, data on this is critical, but the US doesn't have an updated database on extreme precipitation that could help people prepare for these types of storms. And the data we do have vastly underestimates flood risk. Axios’ climate and energy reporter, Andrew Freedman is here to help us dig deeper. Andrew, first, how bad has this situation been in Vermont, a place we don't normally associate with flash flooding.

ANDREW FREEDMAN: Yeah, so the situation in Vermont is, in some cases on par with what we saw during the remnants of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. But there are some locations that exceeded 2011's floods and rivaled that, uh, 1927. So we're talking a very rare event, we're talking a very damaging event and something that the state is going to have to spend years to recover from.

NIALA: Can you connect the dots for us between this type of flooding and climate change?

ANDREW: Essentially when you have warmer air temperatures, the air is able to carry more moisture. When you have warmer sea temperatures and right now global sea surface temperatures are at record highs, especially in the North Atlantic, you evaporate more water into the air. And storms can actually concentrate even more of that water vapor into a small space and squeeze that out over a location as rainfall. So we've seen an increase in extreme precipitation events in their intensity, in their likelihood to occur, a lot of these precipitation amounts you might not think are astounding if you live in a more tropical place, if you live in Florida or if you live in Texas. These were five to nine inch rainfall amounts within six to 12 to 24 hours. But the difference is that Vermont has seen a lot of rain already this spring and summer. So it was primed for flooding and it also has rocky soil and the green mountains, which, uh, makes the water run off really quickly into rivers, creeks, and streams that quickly rise.

NIALA: Andrew, why is it important for government officials, climatologists to have a comprehensive up-to-date database about all of this.

ANDREW: Yeah, so basically what is happening is we're spending billions of dollars on new infrastructure between the two different laws that the Biden administration enacted. We are needing to build for the current climate and build for the future climate. Unfortunately right now, in many respects, we're building for the past climate. Because the database that engineers are using in many cases, that defines what is a 100-year flood event, and really what that means is it's a flood event that has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. So the database that defines that, has been the same for well over a decade, and the new one that's going to come out is not going to come out for a few more years. So we're in this kind of murky middle where engineers need to engage with consulting firms, need to engage with climate scientists to try to figure out how high do they need to build a bridge, exactly what standards do they need to build a factory that's near a river, for example. The problem is that with outdated data, with data that really underestimates flood risk, especially in inland locations, we are essentially building for the climate that no longer exists.

NIALA: Andrew Freedman Axios is climate and energy reporter. Thanks, Andrew.

ANDREW: Thank you very much.

NIALA: The Biden administration yesterday announced a new effort to make child care more affordable for Americans, specifically low income families. That’s through changes to a federal program that essentially subsidizes childcare for working families, says Axios’ Caitlin Owens, and she’s here with what you need to know.

CAITLIN OWENS: One of the most notable pieces of the proposal is it would cap copayments for families at 7% of their income, to make sure that families are paying no more than that 7% of their income for childcare. According to the administration, this could help reduce the payments for nearly 80,000 families.

It also has other components like trying to provide financial stability to childcare providers and encouraging states to make enrollment in the program easier through things like allowing online enrollment. The big picture here though, is that President Biden has long championed making childcare more accessible, but Congress has not enacted his proposals, specifically, his calls for hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for childcare and early childhood education. One of the things he was successful in is. including childcare funding and pandemic relief measures, but some of that funding, which goes towards the childcare industry is set to expire this fall, which some experts are warning could set up a cliff where millions of children could lose access to care.

A senior administration official said that this rule is they're hoping to finalize it in the spring of 2024, which means that this fall could be a little bit of a tumultuous time for families and this proposal is not expected to be finalized in time to address this coming cliff.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ senior policy reporter Caitlin Owens.

In a moment: fighting drug resistant superbugs.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodoo. COVID 19 undid years of progress fighting antibiotic resistant superbugs, so much so that now infectious disease experts are pressing Congress to commit 6 billion for new treatments. Axios Adriel Bettelheim is here to catch us up quick. To start, can you remind us what treatment-resistant superbugs are and how the pandemic made this all worse?

ADRIEL BETTELHEIM: Well, these are infections that have evolved over time to thwart the common antibiotics that you'd get in a hospital or in any sort of a heavy care setting. And it's gotten worse because during the pandemic, people were trying to prevent infections. There was, you know, so many more people in intensive care units and the use of antibiotics increased. The bugs, to speak in very general terms, got smarter and evolved to thwart them.

Cases include, a, a candida auris, which is a fungal infection that's often resistant to drugs, and that's tripled from 2019 to 2021. Outbreaks of drug resistant pseudomonas, which is just a scourge in, in many hospitals, and has really dramatically sickened or killed patients. So Now there's a demonstrable need for kind of a new next generation, scheme of these things that can sort of take on these new threats.

NIALA: What kind of treatments are scientists hoping drug makers can create to combat this?

ADRIEL: Well, I, I mean, I think they need new antimicrobials. It's not the most lucrative line of work for drug makers. In fact, a number of ones that were making sort of innovative antibiotics, filed for bankruptcy. The drug industry and backers of this effort say that, you know, there aren't enough regulatory incentives and just the economic headwinds that that many in the health sector have been facing. But others, uh, critics say this might be sort of throwing good money after bad and that it's not really demonstrable results that the new products they develop would be any better. So there's, there is some skepticism about making a commitment of this order.

NIALA: Do we know what kind of support this funding has in Congress?

ADRIEL: Yeah I mean, there's bipartisan support in both chambers, uh, Senators Bennet and Young are, among the prime drivers and it has drug industry support because some of the drug makers would be beneficiaries and they still have a lot of allies in Congress. Despite, you know, some of the recent legislation on drug pricing. So, uh, it, it has some legs, but it also has a, a big price tag. And, this particular plan called the Pasteur Act has been introduced, you know, several Congresses now this is the third or fourth. So it, it hasn't gained enough traction, although it's gotten hearings and, and a lot of, signals of support.

NIALA: Axios' healthcare editor, Adriel Bettelheim. Thanks, Adriel.

ADRIEL: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: And one final note today: it’s been a week since Meta released its Twitter rival Threads – and the app has already surpassed 100 million users.

Threads reached this milestone quicker than OpenAI’s ChatGPT – which was previously the fastest-growing consumer application in history, with 100 million users in two months, according to a UBS study.

Right now, Threads isn’t available in Europe – so it's unclear how much the user base will continue to grow, but we’ll keep an eye on it. And by the way I’m on Threads - you can find me there at NialaB.

That’s all for today.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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