Four days after Hurricane Sandy struck, a half-million residents of New York City are waiting for their access to electricity to be restored. While power may be back on in Lower Manhattan over the weekend, the blackout may persist into next week for neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.
In our power-centric civilization and economy that means darkness, cold, food spoilage and hunger, gridlock, and a grinding halt of the economic wheels that drive American prosperity.
We expected a devastating storm,
said Mayor Bloomberg of the storm that has, to date, claimed at least 39 lives and incurred billions of dollars of loss.
We prepared for a devastating storm and we got a devastating storm, perhaps the worst in our city's history.
The Battery – at the southern tip of Manhattan – measured as high as 13.88 feet (4.2 meters) when Sandy hit on Monday. The flooding there and in surrounding areas caused power outages, swamped roads and train tunnels, caused massive property damage and crippled the region for days and counting.
Scientists at Princeton say storm tide was comparable to that caused by a 1,000-year hurricane. But, even a once-in-100-year hurricane would bring a 5.3-foot (1.61 meters) storm tide (a combination of the regular tide and the surge brought by the storm) to The Battery.
As climate change proceeds apace and sea levels continue to rise, what is presently a 100-year surge could occur at the Battery every three to 20 years, according to a study published in the February journal of Nature Climate Change.
Over the past 100 years, data from the tide gauge at The Battery have tracked some 10 inches of sea level rise. That rate of rise is accelerating. The "Climate Change Adaptation in New York City: Building a Risk Management Response," a 2010 report, projected that the sea level would rise two to five feet by the 2080s.
The higher projection includes the continuing effects of the rapid ice melt now occurring in Polar Regions; and implies that more frequent and more extensive coastal flooding is in store for the New York area, whatever the strength of any oncoming storms.
It’s not just the Big Apple, either. Recent work indicates sea-level rise may be a more pronounced issue along a 621-mile (1,000 kilometers) stretch of the U.S. Atlantic coast from Cape Hatteras, N.C., well north of New York City to the north of Boston.
Earlier this year, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported that while the global increase in sea level between 1950 and 2009 averaged 0.02 inches (0.6 millimeters), sea level along this "hotspot" has increased on average 0.08 inches (2 mm) per year.
In other words, winds don't have to get stronger and barometric pressure doesn't have to drop. All that's needed for the storm surge to increase in intensity is rising tides. That means our nation will be facing rising infrastructure challenges as well.
President Obama, while counter-surging with Federal aid for Sandy-struck disaster areas and promising "no need will be unmet," also made the reasonable admission that aid on such a grand scale would take days to mobilize.
Sandy's aftermath has forced individual Americans to consider our nation's aging and often fragile critical infrastructure, and how their communities and homes tie into it. Increasingly, Americans are making the pragmatic decision to confront climate change as individuals and communities on the local level.
Solar power for residential homes, small business, and emergency centers is increasingly proving itself a viable key to our nation’s ability to ride out the perfect storm – and the devastating interruption of vital power grids – as our planet's weather grows ever more intense.