Hurricane Sandy: The Storm and the Response

The Storm

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On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the northeast United States.

Several elements converged to give the storm its devastating impact. In what was so far the hottest year in recorded US history, rising temperatures at the ocean’s surface intensified the hurricane’s strength and magnitude. One thousand miles in diameter when it descended upon the shore, Sandy pummeled coastal and inland communities with 80-mile-per-hour winds, while the slow-moving eye of the storm dragged out the duration of the assault. Meanwhile, a full moon meant that the tide of the sea was higher than average, adding volume to the water at the land’s edge and increasing the storm’s surge levels to catastrophic proportions.


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Extent of Physical and Economic Damage

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Hurricane Sandy exposed the role that chronic societal stressors—such as poverty, lack of mobility, and lack of social cohesion—can play in both increasing community vulnerability and hindering a region’s ability to recover from a disaster.

Sandy’s flooding and power outages trapped people in high-rise apartment buildings and public housing; hospitals had to be evacuated; people were unable to travel to work; small businesses were forced to permanently close; and the region lost already scarce affordable housing. Existing social and economic stressors made it much more difficult for frontline communities to bounce back after the storm.

Hurricane Sandy was the second-costliest storm in U.S. history, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Overall, impacts included: $65,000,000,000 in damages and economic loss over 24 states $7,000,000,000 in lost productivity from the closure of the New York Stock Exchange for the first time in over a century 200,000 small business closures 100,000,000 gallons of raw sewage released in Hewlett Bay 2,000,000 working days lost 8,500,000 customers without power 650,000 homes damaged or destroyed

Sources: The Rebuild by Design Book and Georgetown Climate Center

Flooding in NYC

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Hurricane Sandy exposed the region’s vulnerability to extreme weather.

Sandy’s 14-foot storm surge overtopped sea walls; city blocks were inundated with 2 to 3 feet of flood water; damaging waves destroyed whole towns along the New Jersey shore; and the storm knocked out power and wastewater treatment facilities across the region.

Millions of people were left without subway service for a week after the storm, while the MTA worked to identify and repair damage from millions of gallons of floodwaters that had entered the subway system. Ongoing MTA efforts to outline systemic vulnerabilities have so far identified 3,600 openings that allowed water to flow into the subway tunnels. Every one of them will need to be accounted for if another major storm heads toward NYC.

Source: The Rebuild by Design Book

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Projections for Climate Change and Similar Storms

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Hurricane Sandy also provided a glimpse of the impacts the region can expect as climate change progresses.

Sea levels in this region already have risen 1 foot over the last century (which contributed to the storm’s devastation) and are expected to rise by 4 feet or more by 2100. The National Climate Assessment estimates that a 2-foot rise in sea levels would triple the frequency of coastal flooding in the Northeast.

In addition, the region is anticipated to experience an increase in rainfall and heavy downpour events, causing more interior flooding, combined sewer overflows, and attendant water pollution. These forces will combine to greatly increase flood risks across the Sandy-affected region and along the North Atlantic coast.

Source: Georgetown Climate Center

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