Super-Storm Sandy: Two Years Later

Two years ago today, Super-storm Sandy slammed the New York City tri-state area.  Despite being downgraded from hurricane to post-tropical status just prior to landfall, Sandy was the second costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The question is, can it happen again?

Coming ashore with tropical storm-force winds at high tide during a full moon, Sandy was an unprecedented storm. It formed late in the season, grew as it moved north, and instead of turning out to sea like most tropical systems, it made that now famous left hook toward the coast. Statistically, Sandy’s unusual trajectory was a 1-in-700-year event, according to a recent study by researchers at NASA and Columbia University. That said, as sea levels continue to rise, future storm surges will have a higher starting point and be able to reach further inland. So, a lesser storm could produce similar, if not worse, flooding in the future. A different study in the journal, Nature Climate Change, predicts that a current “500 year” storm surge event in NYC could happen every 50 to 240 years by the end of the century.

Sandy caused a record 13.88-foot storm surge at the Battery in lower Manhattan.  It flooded many low-lying areas, including parts of the NYC subway system.  The massive storm, according to the CDC, directly claimed the lives of 117 people in the U.S – mostly by drowning. Damaging or destroying more than 650,000 homes, Sandy displaced thousands of people and caused approximately $70 billion in property damage in addition to knocking out power to 8.5 million people for multiple days.

In reaction, many government agencies – at all levels – have been re-evaluating their strategies for dealing with future storm surge flood disasters.  The National Hurricane Center changed its policy for issuing warnings on post-tropical storms and has developed an experimental Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map that depicts the risk associated with a storm surge during a tropical cyclone. In NYC, the Office of Emergency Management   re-drew its hurricane evacuation zones to reflect the threat of higher sea levels.

As these types of important improvements are being made, the arduous process of rebuilding homes and installing physical defenses against future storms is still ongoing, especially in  the region’s hardest hit areas.

NYC Sea Level Rising Faster than Global Average

Sea level is on the rise around the globe. Some areas, such as New York City, however, are seeing the water rise faster than others.

According to the latest IPCC report, the average global sea level has risen about eight inches since 1880.  Locally, in New York Harbor, the water has risen by more than a foot in the past century. The graph below shows the upward sea level trend at the Battery, Manhattan’s southern tip.

In general, sea level rise has two main drivers. They are thermal expansion – a process in which water expands as it warms – and the melting of land based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets. Both are the result of rising global temperatures. On the local level in NYC, there is also the issue of glacio-isostatic adjustment. This process is not caused by current glacial melt, but rather by the modification of the Earth’s surface as it slowly responds to the removal of the massive weight of ancient glaciers. Overall, it causes some land surfaces to rise and others to sink.  In NYC, the land is slowly sinking.  This combination of factors is expected to intensify future storm surge events in the city.

Sea level in NY Harbor is rising faster than the global average.  Credit: NOAA

Sea level is rising in NY Harbor.   Credit: NOAA

“Extreme Whether” – A Play about Climate Change

Science and the performing arts have joined forces to expand the public discourse on climate change.   In Extreme Whether, a play written and directed by Karen Malpede, the issue is viewed through the personal lens of a bitter family fight over land stewardship.

Set during the record warm summers of 2004 and 2012, the “eco-drama” unfolds on a private wilderness estate in the northeastern U.S.  Leading one side of the battle is a famous – and frequently criticized – climate scientist. Heading up the other side is his twin sister, a spokesperson for the energy industry. While all the characters in the play are fictional, some of them are inspired by the work of real scientists.  These include,            Dr. James Hansen, who testified before Congress about the dangers of global warming back in the 1980s; Dr. Jennifer Francis, who researches connections between melting ice in the arctic and wavier jet stream patterns in the mid-latitudes; and Dr. Michael Mann, author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.”

Extreme Whether is currently playing at the Theatre for the New City in Manhattan’s East Village. It runs through October 26th.  In conjunction with the show, the theatre is also hosting a “Festival of Conscience” where various climate and environmental experts speak with audience members after the play. For the schedule of speakers, visit:

LDEO Open House 2014

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory – part of Columbia University’s Earth Institute – will be hosting an Open House on Saturday, October 11th. This public event offers tours, lectures, and panel discussions on a range of earth science topics, including climate change.  The program also includes a talk about the long and short term responses to Superstorm Sandy.

For more information, including directions and the day’s schedule, visit the LDEO website.

NYC Monthly Summary: September 2014

September 2014 was warm and dry in New York City. The month saw temperatures reach into the 90s on two separate occasions and it even produced our hottest day of the year. All together, despite a few cooler than average days in the middle of the month, the city’s mean temperature for September was 69.9°F. That is 1.9°F above average.

In terms of precipitation for September, rain events were few and far between. Only 1.21 inches of rain was measured in Central Park, which is 3.07 inches below normal. That makes September 2014 the city’s driest September in nine years. As a result, the city, along with most of the southeastern section of New York State, is currently listed as “abnormally dry” on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Graph Credit: The Weather Gamut

Graph Credit: The Weather Gamut

Credit: US Drought Monitor

Credit: US Drought Monitor

Massive Turnout for the People’s Climate March in NYC

More than 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City on Sunday for the People’s Climate March. Calling for action on climate change, organizers say it was one of the largest environmental demonstrations ever held.

From scientists to activists to parents concerned for the future of their children, this massive grassroots event attracted people from across the country and around the world. It even included some boldface political names like former U.S. Vice President Al Gore (founder of the Climate Reality Project), NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as high profile environmentalists like Jane Goodall and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The message of this enormous rally was aimed at the more than 120 heads of state that will be attending the U.N. Climate Summit this Tuesday in NYC.  The summit is an effort to mobilize political will ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris next year where the objective is a binding global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.

Demonstrators making their down Sixth Ave in mid-town Manhattan during the People's Climate March.  Image Credit: Fox News/AP

Demonstrators making their down Sixth Ave in mid-town Manhattan during the People’s Climate March.  Image Credit: Fox News/AP

Climate Week NYC 2014

Climate Week NYC is back for its sixth year. This global conference brings together leaders from a variety of sectors, including business, government, and non-profits to discuss ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

Organizers say this year’s conference will also serve as a “collaborative space for all related events in support of the U.N. Climate Summit”, which convenes in New York City on Tuesday, September 23rd.  Together, the two summits aim to bring “climate change back to the top of the world agenda.”

Climate Week NYC sessions, which run the gamut from high profile invitation-only meetings to free public events and activities, officially begin on Monday.  In addition, a number of events will take place in advance this weekend, including the People’s Climate March. For a complete schedule, visit:

An Increasing Number of 90° Days in NYC

The summer of 2014, overall, was fairly mild in New York City. We only had 8 days reach 90°F or higher. On average, the city typically gets 15. That said, this was just one season. Looking at long-term trends, the number of 90°F days in the Big Apple has actually been increasing.

The graph below shows the number of 90-degree days recorded in Central Park by the National Weather Service every year from 1870 to 2013. While there has been variability over the years, the trend is clearly on the rise.

To date, the most 90°F days that NYC has ever had in one year was 39. That happened in both 1991 and 1993. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 1902 only had one day hit the 90° mark. Last summer, we made it to 90°F or higher 17 times.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

The number of 90-degree days recorded in Central Park by the NWS every year from 1870 to 2013.  Graph Credit: The Weather Gamut

September Brings NYC Warmest Day of the Year

The summer months of June, July, and August have come and gone, but Tuesday brought New York City its hottest day of the year (so far). The high temperature in Central Park soared to 92°F.

According to the NWS, it was our warmest day since September 11, 2013 when the high was 96°F. The normal high in NYC at this time of year is 80°F.

Highlighting the relatively mild conditions that dominated this summer, Tuesday was also only the seventh time this season that the temperature reached 90°F or higher. The city, on average, typically sees fifteen 90-degree days per year.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Credit: The Weather Gamut

NYC Monthly Summary: August 2014

Continuing this summer’s trend, August 2014 hovered around average in New York City. While sixteen out of thirty-one days posted below average temperatures, three days reached the 90°F mark.  All together, the city’s mean temperature for the month was 74.4°F. That is only 0.6°F below normal.

In terms of precipitation, the Big Apple was mostly dry this August. Despite a few thunderstorms and heavy downpours, the city only received 2.25 inches of rain in Central Park. That is 2.19 inches below normal.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Credit: The Weather Gamut