Are Storms Growing Worse Or Is It Something Else?

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has been nothing less than devastating.  Many friends have lost homes and cars in the horrific flooding.  The surge of water was unlike anything we have ever seen in this city in recent history.  Water spilled over the bulkhead at Battery Park City and flowed freely in to lower Manhattan.  Even as the cleanup begins, we must examine the true reasons for the devastation.  For example, Battery Park City is a manmade landfill created by the excavation of the original World Trade Center.  The bulkhead and retaining wall wasn’t built to stand up to a thirteen foot storm surge, which was not unprecedented in New York City which I will discuss.  Regardless of her barometric pressure and what meteorologists are claiming, Sandy was not the most impressive storm as hurricanes go, certainly not a Katrina.  Sandy was barely a category 1, meaning sustained winds of 74 mph, 120 kph. Yes she met up with a low pressure system causing the storm to magnify in intensity and her track was unusual but in New York City at least, there were no thunderstorms, little rain and no threat of tornadoes so often associated with hurricanes.  There are those who point to a storm like Sandy and claim Global warming when in reality that is not the case here.  The “Perfect Storm” in 1991 was more impressive as storms go but more of a New England storm than a New York/New Jersey storm, so it didn’t get the same airtime.  In order to gain some perspective, we need to look back to the early 19th Century.  The Great Gale of 1815, (hurricane was not yet a commonly used term), hit New York City directly, as a Category 3 hurricane.  It caused extensive damage and created an inlet that separated the Rockaways in Queens and Long Beach, Long Island, into two separate barrier islands.  In 1821, a Category 4 Hurricane which made four separate landfalls in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and southern New England, created the highest recorded storm surge in Manhattan of nearly 13 feet.  If a storm surge of 13 feet was a possibility, back then, why wasn’t the bulkhead in lower Manhattan built to hold back a 13 foot storm surge?  Two reasons, 1) cost 2) what were the odds of that ever happening again?  Fast forward to the hurricane of 1938 and as many as one thousand people were killed on Long Island.  In all of this, two points must be made.  1) Hurricanes were just as devastating pre industrial revolution, pre greenhouse gasses and 2) The reason storms appear to be growing more fearsome, is the infrastructure of the United States is crumbling.  We are now a country of three hundred million, many living on or near the coasts and holding back mother nature with an infrastructure built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Katrina was a big storm, but New Orleans is below sea level and the levies were primitive.  If the Government had been serious about protecting this low-lying area of the gulf, it would have brought the forces of this country to bare and built serious bulkheads and over-built levies.  But New Orleans was an afterthought and because of this, Katrina’s intensity was greatly magnified.  We need to start rebuilding our country, and updating our infrastructure.  The same way bridges and buildings are being built to withstand earthquakes in California, so must bulkheads, levies and homes be built to withstand storms on the east coast and gulf.  Had Sandy been any hurricane in the past 150 years, the damage would have been as great.  This devastation is not a result of global warming.  If we continue to make excuses, taking the responsibility out of our hands and blaming greenhouse gasses, the real issues already mentioned will never be addressed.

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