When you stop and think of the name of Hurricane Sandy, was it foreshadowing that she would wreck New York and New Jersey coastal regions? Sandy? As you well know, New Jersey, Long Island, and Staten Island are a mess. Many are still without power. It is apparent that severe natural occurrences are becoming more common on the east coast. So, was Sandy’s intensity due to climate change, the new weather normal, or just bad luck? And could we have been better prepared?
2011: Triple Whammy of Weather.
August 2011 started the ball rolling with an earthquake that was felt up the eastern seaboard. Who would have thought earthquakes happened on the east coast? Sadly, this wasn’t the first one in my area. In 2009, an earthquake occurred in my county. In fact just today, an earthquake occurred in northern New Jersey.
Then Hurricane Irene battered the east coast rendering power outages. Right after we recovered from that storm we were hit hard by the pre-Halloween snow storm. Worse yet, no one told the trees the storm was coming since their leaves remained on the trees. Again, many people were without power for a week or more.
Luckily, we were only without power for a day and half. Since my house is heavily insulated, we didn’t feel the cold temperatures outside. But it was simply a taste of what laid ahead for us.
Our winter was so mild that the trees started to bloom at least a month in advance. Daffodils appeared in April when in the past I was lucky to have them rear their heads by the middle of May. Summer was a bear of heat.
Then Sandy came to town and caused losses triple that of Hurricane Irene. She just had to take that left hook.
Does anyone see a pattern here?
Large trees were uprooted as if a giant came and yanked them from their canopies, power lines were all dangling in the streets, houses were swept away or flooded. Luckily, the only damage we incurred were two young trees fell over. When we built our house we made sure no trees could fall on the house. All of our power lines are underground.
And it is day 7 without power or hot water.
Was Sandy’s Intensity Caused by Climate Change or the New Weather Normal?
The New Jersey water temperature was 5 to 10 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. The ec0-RI news reports:
“[p]erhaps the most significant and indisputable fact is that the Atlantic Ocean is warmer, so much so that a late-October storm didn’t lose steam over what should have been a colder sea. Instead, Sandy gained speed and strength as it headed north and became an enormous force of destruction.”
Given the last year, I wasn’t surprised of Sandy’s intensity. Was Climate Change rearing its ugly head? Most news articles agreed.
Most telling was a US News article, which cited a recent study by the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Ice and Climate. The study stated “hurricanes in the southeast Atlantic have become more frequent over the past 90 years, with more storms in years where water temperature is higher.”
Furthermore, Mark Fischetti, senior editor of Scientific American explains in his recent article why Climate Change had a hand in Sandy’s intensity:
“The atmospheric pattern that sent the Jet Stream south is colloquially known as a “blocking high”—a big pressure center stuck over the very northern Atlantic Ocean and southern Arctic Ocean. And what led to that? A climate phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)—essentially, the state of atmospheric pressure in that region. This state can be positive or negative, and it had changed from positive to negative two weeks before Sandy arrived. The climate kicker? Recent research by Charles Greene at Cornell University and other climate scientists has shown that as more Arctic sea ice melts in the summer—because of global warming—the NAO is more likely to be negative during the autumn and winter. A negative NAO makes the Jet Stream more likely to move in a big, wavy pattern across the U.S., Canada and the Atlantic, causing the kind of big southward dip that occurred during Sandy.
Could this Simply Be Lack of Protected Infrastructure?
Although other pundits argue that science doesn’t support the assertion that climate change had a hand in Sandy’s intensity, it begs the question why weren’t we prepared?
Kate Ascher, who oversees Happold Consulting’s U.S. practice and is the Milstein Professor of Urban Development at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation wrote in her CNN Opinion NYC failed infrastructure was caused due to the lack of priority. She writes:
“No one should stand behind age as an excuse for vulnerability in infrastructure. Consider the case of London, a city whose infrastructure is — in almost every respect — even older than New York’s. Yet over the last 25 years, London has grabbed one opportunity after another to bring its core infrastructure — power, transport and water — into the 21st century. In almost every aspect, the city’s infrastructure is today more resilient than ours.”
In New Jersey, in August, 2012, a few short months before Sandy, NJ.com reported about the needed infrastructure improvements to New Jersey. According to the article,
- In 2007, the New Jersey chapter of American Society of Civil Engineers rated New Jersey’s critical infrastructure. They gave it a C-. That rating was five years ago.
- The American Society of Civil engineers stated that $22 billion was needed to upgrade the state’s drinking and wastewaster systems. Increased flooding would continue to occur due to clogged and aging pipes.
Not investing in infrastructure improvements would end up being more costly than the expenditures. Fairfield Mayor Gasparini stated:
“We’ve been studying this thing for 100 years. We’ve studied it to death,” …”With the millions or billions of dollars that have been spent here after floods, you could have fixed the problem and never have to worry about it again. Money is being thrown away every time there is a flood.”
So, the real question is what are we going to do about this. Forget again until the next storm?
Join the Conversation:
- Is Sandy the new weather normal?
- Do you think Sandy’s intensity was due to climate change?
- Do you think our lack of improvement to the infrastructure is to blame?
- What are your thoughts about the devastation to the coastal areas of the east coast?