Art Installation Marks the 5th Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

Five years ago today, Superstorm Sandy slammed New York City. Its record storm surge flooded many low-lying areas and claimed the lives of forty-four people across the city. Of that number, twenty-four were on hard-hit Staten Island.

To mark this anniversary, local artist Scott LoBaido created a temporary installation in his home borough. Honoring each local victim, he constructed unique figures out of chicken wire and battery-operated LED lights. Scattered across Midland Beach, the display is a poignant reminder of the deadly storm and the dangers of rising sea levels. It is on view through 11 PM on October 30.

Art installation honors Sandy victims on Staten Island. Credit: Staten Island Advance

Art and Climate Change: “America’s Endangered Coast”

Three years ago today Super-storm Sandy slammed the New York City tri-state area. Creating a record storm surge of 13.88 feet at the Battery in lower Manhattan and causing $70 Billion in property damages, it opened the region’s eyes to the dangers posed by rising sea levels. But, this issue is not limited to the northeast. It is a looming threat to all coastal communities in the US. In an effort to call attention to this critical situation, photographer John Ganis has created a series of images – and a soon to be published photo book – called “America’s Endangered Coast”.

Traveling from Texas to Maine, he documented sites that have been and will likely be impacted by either by storm surge flooding or tidal flooding. For each photograph he notes not only the location, but also its elevation above sea level. Of these images Ganis says, “Climate change is a fact and a predicament for mankind of great urgency that I feel compelled to address in my photographic work.”

The two main drivers of sea level rise are thermal expansion – a process in which water expands as it warms – and melting glaciers. Both are the result of rising global temperatures.

Since 1880, according to the IPCC, the average global sea level has risen about eight inches. Looking ahead, as sea levels continue to rise, future storm surges and tidal flooding events will have a higher starting point and will therefore be able to reach further inland. So, in comparison to the impacts of Sandy, a lesser storm could produce similar, if not worse, flooding in the future.

To see images from “America’s Endangered Coast”, visit: www.johnganisphotography.com/galleries/the-endangered-coast/

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“House Site & Shrine, Brook Ave, Union Beach NJ (El. 5 ft.) 2013” Credit: John Ganis

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.

Rising Waters: Photographs of Sandy – An Exhibition at MCNY

Super-storm Sandy wreaked havoc on the greater New York City area in late October 2012.  Documenting this historic and catastrophic event, the Museum of the City of New York, in collaboration with the International Center of Photography, organized the exhibition, Rising Waters: Photographs of Sandy.

Presenting more than two hundred photographs in both color and black and white, subjects range from the storm itself to the physical devastation and personal loss left in its wake. Organized into six sections – Storm, Destruction, Home, Coping, Relief, and Not Over – the exhibition includes images from both professional and amateur photographers.  Many of these contributors, according to the museum, were personally impacted by the storm.

Opened on Sandy’s first anniversary, the exhibition runs through April 6, 2014.  For more information, visit www.mcny.org.

"Once Again", an image from Rising Water: Photographs of Sandy at the MCNY.  Image credit: Amy Medina.

“Once Again”, an image from “Rising Waters: Photographs of Sandy” at the MCNY.                      Image Credit: Amy Medina/MCNY.

Super-Storm Sandy: One Year Later

One year ago today, Super-storm Sandy slammed the New York City tri-state area.  Despite being downgraded from hurricane status just prior to landfall, Sandy was the second costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Coming ashore with tropical storm-force winds at high tide, Sandy caused a record 13.88-foot storm surge.  It flooded many low-lying areas, including parts of the NYC subway system.  Damaging or destroying more than 650,000 homes, the massive storm displaced thousands of people for months.  According to NOAA, Sandy claimed the lives of 159 people and caused approximately $65 billion in property damage.  The storm also knocked out power to 8.5 million people for multiple days – including most of Manhattan south of 34th Street.

Sandy’s flooding storm surge also highlighted the dangers posed by rising sea levels.  In the wake of the storm, many government agencies – at all levels – began re-evaluating their strategies for dealing with future natural disasters.  The National Hurricane Center changed its policy for issuing warnings on post-tropical storms and is developing a new storm surge warming system. New York City’s Office of Emergency Management re-drew its hurricane evacuation zones. And, the National Flood Insurance Program, operated by FEMA, began implementing new policy rates for homes and businesses in flood prone areas.

While the arduous process of rebuilding is ongoing, progress has been made across the region.  Recovery levels vary by location.

Extreme Weather Impacts the National Flood Insurance Program

Hurricanes and floods are nothing new in the United States.  In the last decade, however, this country has seen a significant increase in these types of extreme weather events.  In response to the financial strain they have put on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12).

The NFIP, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), offers insurance for individual businesses and homeowners in flood prone areas. Congress created this program in 1968 in response to the financial chaos caused by Hurricane Betsy in 1965. This storm, which devastated the Gulf Coast, was the first billion-dollar natural disaster in U.S. history.

To calculate flood risk and the corresponding insurance rates for properties, the NFIP uses special maps that indicate flood zones.  Many of these flood insurance rate maps, however, have not been updated in decades and do not reflect the current flood risk associated with our changing environment.  As a result, many policyholders have been paying below market rates.

The Biggert-Waters Insurance Reform Act re-authorizes the NFIP for five years, but requires a number of changes.  These include, the gradual phasing out of subsidized policies and moving the program toward risk-based rates as new flood insurance rate maps become available.  Subsidized policyholders will see a rate increase of 25% per year until their premiums reflect the actual risk of their location. Non-primary residences, non-residential properties, and repetitive loss properties will be among the first to see these changes.

BW-12 was signed into law a few months before Super-storm Sandy devastated coastal communities throughout the northeast.  Many people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Sandy’s record storm surge are now beginning to feel the effects of this new policy.

NYC Updates Hurricane Evacuation Zones

Super-storm Sandy devastated New York City last autumn.  In its wake, emergency management officials have re-drawn the city’s hurricane evacuation zones.

The new zones are based on improved data from SLOSH (sea, lake, and overland surges from Hurricanes), a national Weather Service computer model designed to estimate storm surges.  This new system takes the width of a storm and its wind field into account whereas the old zones were primarily based on a hurricane’s Saffir-Simpson category.

NYC’s new zones are labeled 1 through 6, with zone 1 being the first to be evacuated in the event of a storm.  This system is numeric to avoid confusion with FEMA’s flood zone maps used for insurance purposes.

Go to nyc.gov/hurricane to see if you live or work in an evacuation zone.

NYC's new hurricane evacuation zones.

NYC’s new hurricane evacuation zones.

Image Credit: nyc.gov

Sandy Highlights the Dangers of Rising Sea Levels

Six months ago today, Super-storm Sandy devastated a large section of the northeastern United States.  The flooding caused by its record storm surge was a heart-wrenching example of the dangers posed by rising sea levels.

Storm surge is the rise in sea height that occurs during an intense storm like a hurricane or nor’easter. Its baseline is local sea level. So, as sea levels rise, storm surges are able to reach further inland.  This is a serious problem for coastal communities around the world.

According to climate scientists, the average global sea level has risen about eight inches since 1880.  This may not sound like a lot, but it is a significant amount when you consider it is spread out across all of the world’s oceans.  That said, sea levels are not rising evenly across the planet.  Recent studies have found that certain areas, such as the East Coast of the US, are experiencing faster rates of sea level rise than others.  New York Harbor, for example, has seen its water level increase by more than a foot in the past century.

Sea level rise has two main drivers. They are thermal expansion – a process in which water expands as it warms – and the melting of massive amounts of land based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets.  Both are the result of rising global temperatures.

In the future, sea levels are expected to continue rising as our atmosphere warms. Estimates of how much vary from four inches to two feet above current levels by 2050. This wide range reflects uncertainty in the amount of future greenhouse gas emissions, subsequent warming, and rate of ice melt.  What is certain, however, is that the frequency and magnitude of storm surge flooding will increase as sea levels rise.

Sandy is Retired from List of Hurricane Names

There will never be another Hurricane Sandy – at least not in name.  The World Meteorological Organization has announced that it is officially retiring the name from its list of Atlantic cyclones.

The WMO is responsible for naming tropical storms and hurricanes around the world.  It maintains a set of six rotating lists for each hurricane-prone region. After a six-year cycle, names are re-used.  Names are only retired when a storm was particularly noteworthy – causing a large number of fatalities or an extraordinary amount of damage. In terms of Sandy, the late October storm claimed the lives of 72 people and caused more than $50 billion worth of damage in the United States alone.

Sandy is the 77th name to be retired from the Atlantic list since the current naming system began in 1953. It will be replaced with Sara beginning in 2018, when last year’s list is recycled.  Some other retired Atlantic Basin names include: Andrew, Katrina, and Irene.

NWS Changes Hurricane Warning Policy

The National Hurricane Center, in the aftermath of Super-storm Sandy, drew heavy criticism for not issuing a warning in the northeastern United States ahead of the storm.  In response, the NHC announced yesterday that it is changing its policy for how post tropical storm warnings are delivered to the public.

According to the National Weather Service, Sandy was a category-1 hurricane that merged with a cold front and transitioned to a post tropical storm just prior to coming ashore.  Simply put, this means the storm’s energy source changed.  Nonetheless, it still delivered hurricane-strength winds and a devastating storm surge.  While the NWS explanation was technically correct, the change in nomenclature proved to be a source of confusion and led many people to under estimate the threat posed by the historic storm.

Until now, the NHC was only allowed to publish warnings for narrowly defined hurricanes and tropical storms.  With the implementation of the new policies, however, the hurricane center will be able to keep warnings and advisories in place for storms that threaten people and property, even if they lose their tropical characteristics. The new procedures go into effect on June 1st, the official start of the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Hopefully, this new approach will avoid any misperceptions in future.