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Her father was killed in a climate-driven flood. Here's how she's remembering him

Mandy Messinger's early memories of her father, Craig, are of the smell of his tobacco pipe and how he taught her to throw a baseball. Craig Messinger, was killed in a flash flood near Philadelphia in 2021. She is still processing his death.
Mandy Messinger
Mandy Messinger's early memories of her father, Craig, are of the smell of his tobacco pipe and how he taught her to throw a baseball. Craig Messinger, was killed in a flash flood near Philadelphia in 2021. She is still processing his death.

Mandy Messinger remembers the smell of her father’s pipe. She remembers his obsession with turtlenecks. His excitement when the Atlanta Braves were winning. And the meticulous way he tidied his office at the family eyeglass business that he helped run outside Philadelphia.

“He would blow off the keyboard,” she explains, and then carefully cover the keys in eyeglass wipes. “Everything was moved into alignment. No account was left open. I don’t think my father was ever late on a bill, ever.”

Craig Messinger was reliable. Throughout Mandy’s childhood, Craig worked six days a week. He ate at the same restaurant every weekend. He bought the same shirt in multiple colors. He made the same dry Dad-jokes and attended to the antiques he loved to collect. He was Mr. Predictable, in a good way.

Which is one reason his abrupt death in 2021 was so jarring.

 Mandy Messinger remembers her father's sense of humor and steadfast love. They spoke frequently until his death.
Ryan Kellman / NPR
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NPR
Mandy Messinger remembers her father's sense of humor and steadfast love. They spoke frequently until his death.

On September 1, 2021, Craig Messinger left his office in the Philadelphia suburbs as usual around 6 p.m. and drove to meet his wife. He never made it. Craig drowned in his car. He was just a few days shy of his 71st birthday.

Craig Messinger is one of hundreds of people every year who die as a result of climate-driven extreme weather in the United States.

The disaster that took Messinger’s life began thousands of miles from Philadelphia.

On August 29th, 2021, a massive, category 4 hurricane called Ida hit Louisiana. Ida formed over abnormally warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, which meant it was carrying extra moisture when it hit land.

Storms like Ida are getting more common because of climate change: most of the extra heat that humans have trapped on Earth is absorbed by the oceans, and warmer oceans are fuel for huge, rainy hurricanes.

 Craig Messinger spent his career managing a successful family eyeglass business in the greater Philadelphia area. His daughter remembers that he worked a lot, which made weekends with him feel special. She still has one of the white lab-style jackets he wore at work.
Ryan Kellman / NPR
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NPR
Craig Messinger spent his career managing a successful family eyeglass business in the greater Philadelphia area. His daughter remembers that he worked a lot, which made weekends with him feel special. She still has one of the white lab-style jackets he wore at work.

The moisture from Ida didn’t stay in Louisiana. As the storm broke apart, bands of rain moved north. By the evening of September 1, they’d reached the Philadelphia suburbs.

“That hurricane, for me, came out of nowhere. It was raining and then it was raining hard,” Mandy remembers. “The flood waters happened really, really fast.”

The storm dropped upwards of 8 inches of rain around Philadelphia in a matter of hours. Streets turned into rivers. Craig’s car was inundated, and he wasn’t able to escape the rising water.

“He called his wife from the car, and he left her a voicemail saying, ‘My car is flooding, I’m gonna die,’” Mandy remembers, tearing up. The fact that her dad knew he was going to die is very painful. “I don’t think I could ever listen to that voicemail, because you hope when someone passes, it’s painless,” she says.

Mandy says she is still processing a lot of things about her dad’s death. Its suddenness, the shock of the rain’s intensity and the violence of how he died have all been difficult to cope with.

It’s only recently that she feels like she can talk about him without breaking down. She has some of the antiques he collected, and takes comfort in having those gentle reminders of him in her home. Her wife bought a tiny Atlanta Braves hat for their 1-year-old son.

 Craig Messinger was a dedicated collector of antiques, including a vintage pinball machine that his daughter Mandy still cherishes. "He was kind of obsessive," she says lovingly.
Ryan Kellman / NPR
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NPR
Craig Messinger was a dedicated collector of antiques, including a vintage pinball machine that his daughter Mandy still cherishes. "He was kind of obsessive," she says lovingly.

And, lately, Mandy has been thinking about how there are other people, spread out all over the country, who have lost loved ones to unprecedented weather disasters.

“I just feel like now it’s every year, every season you hear about it. There are super, super tragic weather events,” she says. Any given disaster might only kill a handful of people. Four other people in the Philadelphia area died in the flood that killed Mandy’s father.

 When Mandy Messinger told her father Craig that she and her wife were hoping to have a child, he was overjoyed. "He cried, he was making up names. He already told me what he wanted to be called. I was like, I’m not pregnant yet!" Craig died before his grandson was born. He was a lifelong fan of the Atlanta Braves, and his grandson is still growing into the Braves hat his parents got for him in memory of Craig.
Ryan Kellman / NPR
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NPR
When Mandy Messinger told her father Craig that she and her wife were hoping to have a child, he was overjoyed. "He cried, he was making up names. He already told me what he wanted to be called. I was like, I’m not pregnant yet!" Craig died before his grandson was born. He was a lifelong fan of the Atlanta Braves, and his grandson is still growing into the Braves hat his parents got for him in memory of Craig.

As the Earth continues to warm, climate change will drive more extreme weather events, and the far-flung community of Americans who lose loved ones to extreme weather will continue to grow.

It’s lonely to be part of that community of loss. After a weather disaster, everyone else moves on, Mandy says. “Most people come out unscathed, so they don’t think about it," she says. "But you have these one-off families who are really deeply affected.”


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Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.