Sea level rise began eating the east coast of the United States in the 1990s. By 2025 with the rapid melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the infrastructure of east coast cities was under threat. Water systems, sewage treatment, streets, and buildings were over a century old. What time, population growth, and natural decay hadn’t stressed to the breaking point, the sea threatened to consume.
Of course there were portions of the United States, and the world, that were nearly envious of the problem of too much water, even if it were sea water. Droughts plagued vast acres of once viable cropland. Aquifers were pumped dry. Just like in the days of the first Dust Bowl during the 1930s, towns were abandoned.
Unlike the 1930s, unrest in the cities that fought to stay salient grew. In a country already rife with class dissociation, turmoil and anger replaced hope.
But this is not an article about the droughts, the formation of the Outlands, or even the steps that needed to be taken to carve a semblance of order from chaos. This is a story about the tipping point into darkness.
Hurricane Lempert not only tore apart Florida, but the price of the loss and cost to rebuild or swallow lost investments destroyed the US economy in 2042 and the years after. HALO in 2045 stripped away workers, both skilled and unskilled. The US went from food hungry to labor hungry in a matter of months. Doctors, farmers, electricians, technicians, and morticians were in short supply. No one picked up garbage. The government consisted of a handful of politicians that stared fearfully at surmounting problems. Solutions were a fairytale.
The US military, though impacted by HALO as well, stepped in with troops to quell looting. They helped families displaced by drought and disease. But they remained under the control of the government, working on behalf of the acting president.
Until early July of 2048.
The fear of another strong hurricane after Lempert terrified anyone who had room to think of one more frightening scenario. Storms blew inland from the Gulf and pelted the length of the eastern seaboard. But after Lempert even a category 3 felt like a lucky break. With cataclysmic tornadoes racing across the dusty interior of the US, a storm from the sea was a worry ignored until its path crossed a coastline.
Dexter was a bit of a surprise. May and June of 2048 were both warm. Ocean temperatures creeped upward into territory that brought talk of the threat of strong storms in August and September. Two early storms that reached hurricane status never reached the US mainland. One fizzled to a category 1 and brought much needed soaking rain to Texas. So when Dexter was named and plotted to sweep up the east coast just offshore, it was pretty much forgotten about.
Then a low pressure system that would have pushed the storm into the Atlantic on cool winds stalled over the Great Lakes. Warm air from the south funneled northward with sudden gusto, creating a sucking sweep that pulled the storm toward shore while helping to feed it moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Dexter veered west, not east.
It slammed into New York as a growing monster category 4.
Between the hail and wind, the storm left New York’s skyscrapers looking like the set of an apocalypse movie. The overtaxed and vulnerable systems, jury rigged with updates over the decades, that provided the lifeblood to New York collapsed into the storm surge. New York was left dark, sewage mixing with seawater, while the only fresh water fell as rain. The once brilliant symbol of the US, New York city broke in Hurricane Dexter’s rampage.
Dexter, though, didn’t break. Or stop.
Dexter wobbled to a category 3 hurricane as it blasted northward, edging eastward as it advanced toward Rhode Island and Cape Cod. The blow to Boston was less than New York’s direct impact, but severely damaged the old city as well. Boston, however, was left liveable, but barely. And those who survived Dexter or returned to see what was left, seemed determined to destroy what the storm hadn’t torn down.
Riots and fires blazed from New York northwards, stretching challenged law enforcement beyond capacity. Martial law was declared to quell the furious uprising. But for the first time, no city, state, or federal government called for the military assistance. They weren’t given a choice. The military acted in “the country’s best interest.”