Batten down the hatches: it’s only a matter of time before the Big Apple gets slugged with another Sandy-like storm, some experts say.
The next big one may not have Sandy’s unique characteristics — a tropical storm colliding with a nor’easter that struck at high tide during a full moon — but warming temperatures and rising sea levels are likely to bring another onslaught perhaps as soon as the coming decade.
“Looking to the future, ocean temps are warmer on average than they were in the past which gives the possibility that these tropical systems might persist later into the fall and come farther up the coast,” said David Robinson, a Rutgers University geography professor and the New Jersey state climatologist.
The average land and ocean surface temperature in 2021 was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the 20th-century average, according to federal data.
“Sandy was supposed to lose its strength well before making it up to New Jersey and it didn’t,” Robinson said. “At the same time, you have these early season nor’easters. The potential of these two joining forces in my estimation will increase with time.”
Vivek Shandas, a professor at Portland State University, said New York could expect to see more “supercharged” superstorms because of the changing climate.
“My hunch is that it’s going to be a lot sooner than later, meaning in the next decade is my best guess we’re going to see another event that’s going to be on the scale of Sandy if not greater,” said Shandas, who is a member of the review panel for New York City’s climate change report.
Geophysicist Klaus Jacob with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said rises in atmospheric and ocean temperature add more moisture into the air which helps create stronger hurricanes.
“It means that even smaller storms — with the help of sea level rise — reach areas that in the past, or in the present, are only being reached by very strong storms,” Jacob said.
The sea level in New York City has increased 9 inches since 1950.
More rainfall can also be expected with these storms, causing flooding in parts of the city largely spared by Sandy — such as subway stations in Upper Manhattan and even flash flooding on Fifth Avenue, he said.
The city and MTA have spent billions on mitigation measures including the ground breaking this week of a project to build flood walls and deployable flip-up barriers to protect the Two Bridges area of Lower Manhattan. Mayor Adams said $8 billion more in federal money was needed for resiliency projects.
“The problem is do they really perform all as designed,” Jacob said. “You always have a few problems that something jammed, that the barriers don’t get installed in place.”
A report this month by City Comptroller Brad Lander found the city had spent only $11 billion of the $15 billion in federal grant money allocated for Sandy recovery and called for updating the city’s long-term resiliency plans.
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