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Resiliency In The Face Of Stronger Storms

2013 November 19

By Josephine Chu

We all remember Superstorm Sandy, especially those of us who live along the East Coast. My parents, who reside on Long Island, were very lucky and did not have any major damage to their home. They did, however, have to live without electricity for two weeks.

Seeing the impact on my parents during this time made me realize just how much we depend on electricity to run the daily tasks in our lives. My parents could cook at home on our gas stove, but without a working refrigerator, they couldn’t store perishables. Long lines at the gas stations meant that even the simple task of driving to buy supplies became difficult. Some of my friends didn’t have running water since there was no electricity to operate the water pumps. These stories made me wonder: will we be prepared if another Sandy hits? Are more Sandys in our future?
While there is uncertainty about the impact of climate change on the frequency of hurricanes, scientists have evidence documenting how climate change will intensify storms. According to the US Global Change Research Program, it is very likely that increased levels of greenhouse gases have contributed to an increase in sea surface temperatures. The intensity of North Atlantic tropical storm activity for most of the mid- to late 20th century has increased, too (see the orange “Power Dissipation Index” line in the figure above). This trend is associated closely with variations in sea surface temperature (see the dashed purple line). As sea surface temperatures are projected to continue increasing in a warming climate, we can expect that warm waters will fuel more intense storms.

Government agencies, including EPA, are working together to implement the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, with the goal of accounting for the impacts of more intense storms. Cities are also taking action; in June 2013, New York City mayor Bloomberg proposed a $20 billion plan of flood barriers and green infrastructure to build a more resilient city.

Check out EPA’s page on adaptation efforts for more information about how we can work together to build climate-resilient communities. With better adaptation efforts, hopefully, my family and other communities can be better prepared for the next storm.

About the author: Josephine Chu is a fellow with the communications team of the Climate Change Division in the Office of Air and Radiation. She recently earned her master’s in Global Environmental Politics at American University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Enviro Equipment Blog permalink
    November 19, 2013

    “While there is uncertainty about the impact of climate change on the frequency of hurricanes, scientists have evidence documenting how climate change will intensify storms.”


    Can you cite one or more online references of the evidence? I’ve heard that no such evidence as of yet exists, but I really don’t know. I would like to learn more.

  2. Ellen permalink
    November 20, 2013

    Informative post! You have shared such a worthy post with us. As it is necessary to know about it and I know most of the people didn’t know anything about it. Good job!

  3. Tom Miller permalink
    November 20, 2013

    This is useful information , people should pay more attention to climate change , corporations especially

  4. szellner2814 permalink
    November 21, 2013

    If more evidence is presented showing the climate change, caused in part by greenhouse gases rising sea temperatures may increase storm intensity, then there will a very compelling case for investing in the mitigation of the effects of climate change as soon as possible. Just think of the number of lives lost in Hurricane Sandy, the recent hurricane in the Philippines, and the tornadoes in the Midwest. If the federal government is in place to protect the general welfare of the American people, as the preamble of the constitution says it is, then action must be taken to protect Americans from natural disasters.

    It is good to hear that the city of New York will be more resilient in the event that a Hurricane like Sandy comes again. New York City’s recovery has been admirable.

    Thank you, Josephine, for writing about this research and the projects under way to strengthen New York City.

  5. electra27 permalink
    December 8, 2013

    From my life experience during Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy, I see no improvement organizationally. Perhaps slowly individuals and businesses will take precautions, but if human nature is any indication from the past, people are more likely to take a chance than prepare by investing in protection which costs money. Because public transportation was wiped out, and roads were not usable because of flooding, downed trees and wires, and the recommendation to not drive so that roads would be clear for emergency vehicles, I was not able to go anywhere I was told to go to help. I reported to the police department down the block so I could help people in the neighborhood. I requested to go to part of my work that was in walking distance, but was told to go to another borough by taxi, which was undoable. So, my recommendation for resiliency is to have all volunteer services during storms be very local. And as far as resiliency by planting trees, though a noble plan in principle, without responsible and continuing care by the city or individuals, new trees will die, as has been happening during this very dry past summer and fall, which then does not achieve the goal intended. Even established trees could not survive without additional watering in this past dry season.

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