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Column: When Irma gets personal

Published: Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 9:34 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 3:55 p.m. CDT

Matlacha is a town you’d see on the back of a postcard. The tiny Florida town is on a barrier island off the state’s gulf coast. The entrance to the little burg is a draw bridge, which crosses a bay housing a large marina.

Every building in Matlacha is coated with bright pinks and greens and pastel purples. The town is merely a two-mile strip of highway, giving nearly every home and business a bit of beach front to boast to tourists. It’s also home to transplants from New Jersey to Italy — some of the nicest people you’d every want to meet.

For Betsy and me, Matlacha holds a special place. It’s the town where we stayed the night before our wedding this May, in a little skyblue motel called Knolls Court. The rooms are cozy, clean and quaint. The units all have an ocean-front view with palm trees and a communal patio where retirees and millennials converge over wine and cocktails.

The inn is managed by long-time married couple Janet and Howie. They decided to spend their later years managing the motel and hosting its guests. Howie captains a sail boat and relaxes under the canopy with a cigar smoldering between his fingers. Janet is the conversationalist. She tells stories from back home and enjoys reminding Howie who’s in charge. They’re one of a kind.

On neighboring Pine Island lives Vince and Kathy, the Tropic Star captain and his wife who performed our wedding ceremony on the way out to Cayo Costa State Park. After we returned from five days of post-nuptial camping, Vince invited us to his two-bedroom bungalow for burgers and beers before we left for Iowa.

As the summer comes to an end, Betsy and I were preparing to send our Florida friends some Iowa goodies like Maytag Blue Cheese, Iowa Wine and a post card with an Iowa landscape to say thank you for an unforgettable wedding week. But our trip to FedEx has been halted. We don’t know if mail carriers, or anyone else, will be in Matlacha next week.

It’s a completely different experience watching the news of a Category 4 hurricane when friends are in the storm path. Because hurricane Irma is so big, regardless of where it made landfall, it will impact Matlacha. Our biggest fear was whether or not the town so special to us would still be there for a return trip.

Storms like Irma and Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the gulf coast of Texas last week, are intensified by Climate Change. The evidence is everywhere. Flooding this month associated with higher sea levels has displaced nearly 40 million in south Asia; the western portion of the North American continent is burning due to larger than usual wildfires complicated by drought. It’s a scientific phenomena that has been politicized over the decades and turned into mere talking points. But once the graphs and data transform into people, climate change finally becomes real.

Much of the warming associated with climate change has happened in the Earth’s oceans. The effects of those higher temps can be seen in the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef; the ocean becomes more acidic as more fresh water from melting sea ice enters the salt water and temperatures rise. These higher water temperatures, scientists have confirmed, also intensify storm surges.

It’s a sad irony these natural disasters enhanced by climate change are heavily affecting states with governors and legislators who have publicly denied the scientific community’s consensus that climate change is happening and human activity is the cause.

It’s too late to avoid some changes in our climate, and our coastal and agricultural states will have to adapt to more unpredictable weather extremes. But it might not be too late to stave off the worst of it. Tell your elected leaders developing strong climate change policy is non-negotiable.

And if Janet, Howie, Vince and Kathy are reading, we want you to know you are in our thoughts. Be safe down there.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@newtondailynews.com

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