From Tufts University , and the department of industrial strength grant funded worry, comes this “could” question coached in caveats:
Could Sandy happen again? Maybe, says Tufts geologist
Due to rising sea levels, smaller storms could produce significant flooding
MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Almost a year after Hurricane Sandy, parts of New York and New Jersey are still recovering from billions of dollars in flood damage. Tufts University geologist Andrew Kemp sees the possibility of damage from storms smaller than Sandy in the future.
“Rising sea levels exacerbate flooding,” says Kemp. “As sea level rises, smaller and weaker storms will cause flood damage.” An assistant professor in Tufts’ Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Kemp co-authored a study on sea-level change close to New York that was published recently in the Journal of Quaternary Science.
Sandy hit New York as a team led by Kemp was researching sea-level change and flooding that had occurred in seven historically damaging hurricanes in New York since 1788. Last October, Sandy’s storm surge hit the coast at high tide, but storm and tidal conditions were not the only cause of the devastation, Kemp says. Seawaters off New York’s coast have risen 16 inches since 1778, the year of New York City’s first major recorded storm, his research shows.
To make this determination Kemp and his team studied salt-marsh sediments from Barnegat Bay in northern New Jersey, south of the tide gauge at Battery Park in New York. Using sediment cores, long cylinders drilled into the marsh floor that offer scientists a look back through time, they were able to reconstruct sea-level changes since 1788.
Kemp cites two factors for rising seas. One is the natural sinking of land called glacio-isostatic adjustment. A second factor, and one supported by the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), points to the melting of the ice-covered terrain of Greenland and Antarctic as well as the thermal expansion of ocean waters.
Looking forward, Kemp sees the possibility of storms less powerful than Sandy inflicting serious damage. He uses a basketball analogy. “It’s like playing basketball and raising the level of the court so that shorter and shorter people can dunk. It makes low lying property and infrastructure more vulnerable at a time when developers are pumping money into coastal cities and towns.”
Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs across the university’s schools is widely encouraged.
Dr. Kemp, the basketball analogy fails miserably when the floor is sinking, Note the reference you made: “One is the natural sinking of land called glacio-isostatic adjustment.”
It was about 49 years ago that Hurricane Hazel made an even bigger mess than Sandy, before anybody even worried about climate change, sea level rise, or any number of other similar over-worries associated with “climate change”.
Hurricane Hazel was the deadliest and costliest hurricane of the 1954 Atlantic hurricane season. The storm killed as many as 1,000 people in Haiti before striking the United States near the border between North and South Carolina, as a Category 4 hurricane. After causing 95 fatalities in the US, Hazel struck Canada as an extratropical storm, raising the death toll by 81 people, mostly in Toronto. As a result of the high death toll and the damage Hazel caused, its name was retired from use for North Atlantic hurricanes.
Hazel affected Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York; it brought gusts near 160 km/h (100 mph) and caused $308 million (1954 USD) in damage. When it was over Pennsylvannia, Hazel consolidated with a cold front, and turned northwest towards Canada. When it hit Ontario as an extratropical storm, rivers and streams in and around Toronto, Ontario overflowed their banks, which caused severe flooding. As a result, many residential areas located in the local floodplains, such as the Raymore Drive area, were subsequently converted to parkland. In Canada alone, over C$135 million (2009: $1.1 billion) of damage was incurred.
The effects of Hazel were particularly unprecedented in Toronto, as a result of a combination of a lack of experience in dealing with tropical storms and the storm’s unexpected retention of power. Hazel had traveled 1,100 km (680 mi) over land, but while approaching Canada, it had merged with an existing powerful cold front. The storm stalled over the Greater Toronto Area, and although it was now extratropical, it remained as powerful as a category 1 hurricane. To help with the cleanup, 800 members of the military were summoned, and a Hurricane Relief Fund was established that distributed $5.1 million (2009: $41.7 million) in aid.
In early October 1954, a tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa and was spotted on October 5, roughly 80 km (50 mi) east of the island of Grenada. Sufficiently organized to be deemed a hurricane, the original hurricane hunter wind measurement of 110 km/h (70 mph) soon increased to 160 km/h (100 mph) at the centre, with a forward speed of 16 km/h (10 mph). Hazel moved westward and intensified from October 6 to October 9 in the Caribbean Sea without directly striking any land; at one point, it was moving “practically parallel” to the Venezuelan coast. After continuing on a westward track, it turned sharply to the north-northeast, heading for Haiti instead of Jamaica, contrary to meteorologists’ predictions. On the whole, the storm proved to be very unpredictable, defying forecasts on multiple occasions.
On October 11, Hazel crossed Haiti as a Category 2 hurricane. It had lost some strength because of its passing over peaks as high as 2,400 m (8,000 ft). After passing through the Windward Passage between the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola, Hazel turned northwest toward the southeastern part of the Bahamas and East Coast of the United States, at a forward speed of about 27 km/h (17 mph). Hurricanes are generally expected to lose power after going north of Florida, since the temperature of the water is lower; however, by late October 14, just before it reached the Carolinas, hurricane hunter planes found the hurricane’s winds to have accelerated to 220 km/h (140 mph), making it a Category 4 storm, and its forward speed had increased to 48 km/h (30 mph).
Then there’s this one, the Ash Wednesday Storm:
“In New Jersey alone, an estimated 45,000 homes were destroyed or greatly damaged. In New York, on Long Island, communities such as Fire Island were decimated; 100 homes there were destroyed. Wave heights reached 12 m (40 ft) by the shore of New York City.”
Could Hazel happen again? Sure. Could the Ash Wednesday Storm happen again? No doubt. Could Sandy happen again? You betcha. Does climate change have anything to do with the odds of any of these recurring? Nope.
In fact the odds are better for a Sandy or Hazel like storm to strike when the tide is not at a peak. Had Sandy struck when the tide was low or even somewhere in the middle of the tide cycle, the caterwauling about sea level rise wouldn’t be nearly as loud. While I don’t disagree with Kemp’s statement of “Rising sea levels exacerbate flooding,”, we can also say “hurricanes at high tide exacerbate flooding”. The question comes down to which one had more effect, in the case of Sandy, it was the timing of landfall, high tide, and years of neglecting sea defenses; sea level rise was a minor player.
At 8.99 feet on top of the high tide, Sandy’s surge was almost twice that of its nearest rivals, which all fell between 4 and 5 feet.
It was Sandy’s unusual westward track bringing it into Long Island, coupled with the storm’s vast size, that focused and pushed such a large surge into the New York area and much of the New Jersey coast, where similar records were set in many places. But, also note that the portion of SLR compared to Sandy’s storm surge isn’t all that much. The subway system would still have flooded if there were no sea level rise.
Should we freak out about sea level in New York City? You be the judge: Freaking out about NYC sea level rise is easy to do when you don’t pay attention to history