Devastating Hurricanes Could Be New York’s New Norm
The catastrophic flooding Hurricane Sandy inflicted on New York City in 2012 took lives, destroyed neighborhoods, and caused more than $65 billion in damage. The superstorm was seen as one of those perfectly timed disasters—the storm surge coincided with high tides, inundating entire communities.
Thanks to climate change, scientists estimate that by the end of the century, a Hurricane Sandy–type storm could become as much as 17 times more likely to hit New York City in any given year, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers analyzed storms dating back to 1850 and used climate models to predict events. They found that between 1800 and 2000, Sandy-like floods have become three times more common in the New York area. The increase in frequency is mostly from sea level rise, which has increased by nearly a foot over the last 100 years along New York and New Jersey coasts.
Looking forward, the study found that warming oceans, sea level rise, and increased atmospheric moisture could increase the frequency of supercharged storms. That means a 400-year storm of Sandy’s magnitude could hit the region every 23 years.
That’s just a worst-case scenario, cautioned Ning Lin, the study’s lead author and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University.
“If you account for only sea level rise, which we are already seeing, and take out all other variables and predicted changes in storm climatology in the future, you have a bare minimum of Sandy-like storms hitting three times more frequently,” Lin said. “So no matter what, it is going to get worse for New York City.”
The researchers said city leaders could use the modeling tool to help determine where and how flood mitigation measures should be implemented.
“For example, if they’re trying to figure out how high to build a seawall, our models can give them a good idea of how high to build it, based on predictions of flood risk, sea level rise, and other factors specific to that area,” Lin said.
The next step is to figure out what mitigation measures—such as berms, seawalls, and wetland restoration—are best suited for particular areas.
“We need to be able to calculate what the potential damage is in terms of dollar losses from future climate scenarios,” Lin said. “If we can do that, we can figure out what mitigation strategies would be best to use to get those losses under control and adapt to climate change.”