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Category — Superstorm Sandy

Superstorm Sandy (Part IV: Questions Needing Answers)

As previous posts have tried to show. we already have too many “answers” from the political class and their allies. What we need is realistic questions to start anew.

We hope Part I (“Spinning Climate and Weather”), Part II (“Political Actions”), and Part III (“Warnings Given and Ignored”) will inspire people to interact in the comment section by raising still more needed questions, rather than only expounding on policy “fixes.”

Questions like the following are an essential first step.

Communication, Risk, and Decision-Making

1. How do we communicate flood, wind and wave storm risks in understandable, consistent,and actionable terms to the public and elected officials, and among the various federal and state agencies? How can we create a consistent policy with respect to warnings and evacuation orders?

2. What safety factors should we use in risk analyses and our decision making process, and why? How should we account for land subsidence and sea level rise in planning and risk analysis? Who decides?

3. Can we evacuate 3.5 million people in New York City and Long Island in response to a Category 3 or 4 hurricane? Is there sufficient time to make that decision, given our current storm models? Will any mayor order an evacuation of 3.5 million people 48+ hours in advance of a storm? How should we make the evacuation decision and by what metrics? What are the mortality estimates for such a storm?

4. How does the public make an evacuation decision? How does a governor or mayor make an evacuation decision? How can we increase the probability that the correct decision is made – and what metrics do we use?

5. What safety factors should we use in risk analyses and in our decision making process, and why? How should we account for land subsidence and sea level rise in planning and risk analysis? Who decides?

6. Is “once in a hundred years” the proper basis for storm risk analysis? Is the risk the same for Manhattan as it is for the Outer Banks? Should urban and rural locations be using the same risk basis? [Read more →]

February 3, 2013   4 Comments

Superstorm Sandy (Part III: Political Actions)

In Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath – with millions freezing and hungry in dark devastation, including nursing home patients that he failed to evacuate – Mayor Bloomberg sidetracked police and sanitation workers for the NYC Marathon, until public outrage forced him to reconsider.

While federal emergency teams struggled to get water, food, and gasoline to victims, companies, religious groups, charities, local citizens, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and other state and local agencies worked tirelessly to raise money, truck in food and water, and organize countless relief efforts.

The hard reality, however, was how ill-prepared the region was for another major storm. The political body pretended the great storms had not occurred, virtually assuring that any repeat of the 1893, 1938, 1944, and 1992 storms, among others, would bring devastation far worse than before.

Opportunity Costs

In one of the most obvious, architects, city planners, mayors and governors alike thought nothing of placing generators in the basements of hospitals and skyscrapers built in areas that are barely above sea level. Past storms have brought surges 12 to 18 feet high onto Long Island, and studies have warned that a category 3 direct hit could put much of New York City and its key infrastructure under 30 feet of water.

Sandy’s 9-foot surges (on top of five feet of high tide) flooded those basements, rendering generators useless, and leaving buildings cold and dark. Perhaps if Mayor Bloomberg had worried less about 32-oz sodas and seas that are rising a mere foot per century, he could have devoted more time to critical issues. [Read more →]

February 2, 2013   3 Comments

Superstorm Sandy (Part II: Warnings Given–And Ignored)

Mayors and governors cannot say they weren’t adequately warned, not just once, but time and time again – in news stories, reports, photographs and graphic personal recollections. New York City was told in 1968 that it needed to protect its infrastructure from a potential 20-foot rise in water above sea level. Sandy was 14 feet.

Still more official reports by various agencies repeated these warnings over the next four decades – but with little or no action being taken by the city, even though the latest projection warned of water levels rising nearly 30 feet in the vicinity of John F. Kennedy Airport. The December 1992 nor’easter also foreshadowed Sandy flooding major sections of the PATH and subway systems.

Those reports and the accompanying photos provide merely the tips of the proverbial icebergs that these captains of titanic states and urban areas ignore at their citizens’ peril.

Sandy was a very large, destructive, deadly storm. Its gale force winds exceeded in diameter any NY/NJ storm since the satellite era began in 1978, with low pressure readings equal to the 1938 storm and the reconstructed 1635 hurricane. Fortunately, its winds were not of hurricane strength in the city. Unfortunately, Sandy’s Atlantic City, NJ landfall was a worst-case scenario, as it aligned New York Harbor with the more intense “right wall” winds that saw the maximum push of water hit simultaneously with a spring (full-moon) high tide – adding another 5.5 of water, plus waves on top of the surge.

The fact that New York Harbor is tucked into the mid-Atlantic coast has protected it during most of its history. However when a powerful enough storm roars in and lines up with the harbor entrance, the surge is funneled to even higher levels by the natural geography and by the land use changes and dredging that have occurred over the last century. Indeed, NYC saw the highest water level over the past hundred years because it hit at high tide. [Read more →]

February 1, 2013   4 Comments

Superstorm Sandy (Part I: Spinning Climate, Weather for Political Points)

In the wake of “Superstorm” Sandy, the political spin and distractions reached hurricane proportions. “It’s global warming, stupid,” declared Bloomberg BusinessWeek after monster winds and waves pounded New York and New Jersey. This storm should “compel all elected leaders to take immediate action” on climate change, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo added:

Anyone who says there’s no change in weather patterns is denying reality. The storms we’ve experienced in the last year or so are much more severe than before.

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman echoed:

We’ve had two 100-year storms in 14 months in this state, with a couple of nor’easters thrown in between for good measure. The climate is changing, whether people want to talk about it or not.”

And just when you think politicians could not get any worse, there is Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In 2006, he complained:

Allstate is the poster child for terrible corporate citizenship. They won’t write new policies for fear of hurricanes, when the odds of a severe hurricane hitting New York City is one in every 500 years.”

As Sandy wreaked its havoc, Schumer went into spin mode. “We want NOAA to keep it classified as a tropical storm, to save homeowners in New York and Long Island thousands of dollars,” he said, given that “Hurricane” Sandy would trigger higher deductibles. [Read more →]

January 31, 2013   13 Comments