Most Read: Local

Posted at 12:52 PM ET, 10/31/2012

Climate change predictions foresaw Hurricane Sandy scenario for New York City

A handout photo issued by MTA New York City Transit on 30 October shows floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy entering the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, in New York, USA, 29 October 2012. (MTA/PATRICK CASHIN/HO - EPA)
Hurricane Sandy’s stunning storm surge practically marooned the Big Apple. But for years, forecasters saw this as a possibility in both the present and more distant future.

In my somewhat whimsical post of February 9, 2011, I speculated about what life would be like during the year 2076, our tercentennial, both weatherwise and otherwise. I alluded to concerns over the threat of major storm surge flooding in New York City from a hurricane in an age of rising sea levels. (Also, see Part I of the same story.)

My predictions were drawn from a variety of sources and were all predicated on a continuation—and even acceleration — of global climate change.

In the aftermath of Hurricane/Nor’easter Sandy and the devastation it has caused in the New York City and coastal New Jersey areas, let’s revisit a forward looking report by the 2009 New York City Climate Change Panel that I discussed in that 2076 futuristic outlook.

As brought out in my 2011 post, that panel expressed “great concern about the city’s hurricane vulnerability, given that most of the critical infrastructure was less than 10 feet above sea level.”

In particular, the panel mentioned LaGuardia Airport and the city entrance to the Holland Tunnel, which are only 9.5 feet and 7.8 feet above sea level, respectively. (See Part I of this video, which, in 2005, depicted NYC with an 18-inch rise in sea levels. Courtesy of the PEW Foundation.)

Now, two days after the recent storm, the Holland Tunnel, after a temporary shut-down, has managed to reopen. But with a storm surge in lower Manhattan of more than 13 feet, we do know that the 12’ 8” Hugh L. Carey Tunnel [formerly the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel], was flooded from end to end, [with] the water rushing in only hours after it was closed to traffic. Also, seven subway tunnels under the East River were at least partially submerged. In addition, with blocked roads and bridges, Manhattan was, for a time, essentially cut-off.

An MH-65T Dolphin helicopter aircrew from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City looks over LaGuardia Airport while it conducts an over flight assessment of New York Boroughs impacted by Hurricane Sandy, October 30, 2012. New York's LaGuardia Airport, the third of the airports that serve the nation's busiest airspace, was flooded and remained closed. (HANDOUT - REUTERS)
In addition, as predicted by the 2009 NYC Climate Change Panel, LaGuardia Airport experienced some of its worst flooding ever and its re-opening date is therefore unclear. This is because, aside from the receding waters themselves, the massive amount of residual salt debris will require a careful and time-consuming inspection to make sure that sensitive runway electronics have not been compromised.

The 2009 NYC report, and others over the years, are among many which have focused on the coming dangers facing America’s coastlines.

Employees from MTA New York City Transit work to restore the South Ferry subway station after it was flooded by seawater during superstorm Sandy on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. (Patrick Cashin - AP)
A strong believer in these dangers is author John Englander, of the blog “A Clear Voice on Climate Change & Ocean Impacts,” who says in his October 30, 2012 post that about one week ago he sent his new book, “High Tide On Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis”, to his publisher. He notes, of course, that he had no idea what devastation the newly named Sandy would bring.

To lend support to his beliefs, Englander refers to a prophetic 1999 N.Y. Times op-ed piece entitled “Hurricanes on the Hudson,” in which that author quotes a previous study about “what could occur if a category 4 hurricane approached New York City from a particular direction.” Although, fortunately, Sandy was not this strong and did not meet all criteria in the study, nevertheless, it should serve as fair warning…….:

When researchers with the National Weather Service, working with the Army Corps [of Engineers], applied [their] model to New York City they discovered, to their great surprise, that the slope of the seabed and the shape of the New York Bight, where the coasts of New York and New Jersey meet, could amplify a surge to a depth far greater than if the same surge had occurred elsewhere. The studies showed that a category 4 hurricane moving north-northwest at 40 to 60 miles an hour, and making landfall near Atlantic City—which would drive the storm’s most powerful right flank into Manhattan—could create a storm surge of nearly 30 feet at the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The water could rise as rapidly as 17 feet in one hour.

By  |  12:52 PM ET, 10/31/2012

Read what others are saying

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company