Here Comes the Bride

Who doesn’t love to see a bride on her wedding day?

Serena Torens of Dover, New Jersey, had been married for less than an hour and was en route to her wedding reception when she ran into an obstacle. Flash flooding submerged her vehicle, and what happened next is captured on this clip:

Officer Michael Leferra told reporters, “I was a little shocked because we do rescues from time to time, but never a bride and groom. They were a little panicked. We were able to calm them down first, and then once they got to dry land they were just so happy and relieved.”

Phew! On to the wedding reception!

The sight of Mrs. Torens emerging from her sun roof to grasp Officer Leferra’s outstretched hand, expertly hoisting her voluminous gown, and gliding across to the blinking emergency vehicle, as if on a dance floor, is captivating. And it creates an opening to talk about climate change.

Sharing an interesting story that reframes consequences in terms that people care about is a well-established communications principle. Prof. Elke Weber of Princeton’s Andlinger Center for Energy & the Environment explains: “It is useful to translate information about actions that reduce the risks of climate change into goals and objectives that people are concerned about. Unless they are explicitly told about a specific personal benefit of an action, people may not realize that the action has implications for their health, budget, or well-being.”

There are many ways to have a climate conversation, based on people’s interests and obsessions. 20 million Americans attended a wedding during the past year. Lots more are employed by the 79 billion-dollar wedding industry in this country. (Think bridal salons, tux rentals, caterers, florists, musicians, venues, yadda yadda.)

Perhaps the rescued bride presents an opportunity to communicate with some of them about the impacts of global warming.

In New Jersey — and in other areas of the US and the world — people are asking: Hasn’t there been an unusual occurrence of flash flooding recently? The answer is Yes.

A second question: Why?

The five-word answer is: Hotter air holds more water. “Water vapor in the atmosphere has increased about 7% since the 1970s,” according to Dr. Jennifer Francis, Research Professor at the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University. “This provides more moisture for any storm, be it a thunderstorm (flash flood producers), nor’easters (heavy snow falls), hurricanes, etc.” Francis points to this map, which indicates that heavy precipitation events are clearly increasing.

ClimateCentralDownpours. Kunkel

A third question may arise: Why is water vapor in the atmosphere increasing?

Answer: because global temperatures are increasing due to the greenhouse effect. The National Climate Assessment, an extensively reviewed report produced by a 300-member team of experts and guided by a Federal Advisory Committee, lists Heavy Downpours and Floods among its list of extreme weather findings:

“Warmer air can contain more water vapor than cooler air. Global analyses show that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere has in fact increased over both land and oceans.,,, Climate change also alters dynamical characteristics of the atmosphere that in turn affect weather patterns and storms. In the mid-latitudes, where most of the continental U.S. is located, there is an upward trend in extreme precipitation in the vicinity of fronts associated with mid-latitude storms. Locally, natural variations can also be important.”

Now you might ask, Should we have flood insurance? Flood-damage disclosure requirements vary from state to state. If you’re a property owner, find out more about your state laws here, via Columbia University’s Sabin Center and the National Resources Defense Council.

Any message’s efficacy depends on whether people will actually talk about it with others.

“The best test of the simplicity and clarity of a science-based message is whether members of the target audience are willing and able to convey the message to their family, friends and co-workers. Ultimately, that should be the aim of our communication — to motivate and enable members of our target audience to share our messages with one another,” says Dr. Ed Maibach of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

I think this bride is stunning not only for her unflappable poise amid rising waters, but also because she’s a powerful conversation starter about the real-life impacts of a warming planet.


Sarah Finnie Robinson is a senior fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Boston University and the founding partner at WeSpire, which provides persuasive technology to large organizations to engage employees for positive impact. She is active on the Boston Harbor Now climate task force. An English major (Princeton B.A., Middlebury M.A.) and reformed litterer with roots in mainstream media (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, iVillage), she invests in large-scale climate solutions and hunts down best practices for communications to solve the challenge of global warming. Robinson blogs on HuffPostMedium, and mindbodygreen. Off-duty, she tends an organic garden of edible leaves and enjoys a nice glass of wine that was not grown using chemicals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s