Hurricane Sandy: Forecast of Things to Come?

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Amidst the aftermath of the election results in the United States, the country is still dealing with the effects of one of the largest hurricanes the Atlantic seaboard has yet witnessed. Hurricane Sandy was born in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Nicaragua, as a tropical depression formed on the 22nd of October, gradually strengthening to form a tropical storm with maximum wind strengths of 40 miles per hour. Sandy’s path crossed Jamaica, Cuba and the coast of Florida before moving off the USA’s east coast and finally hitting New York, causing major surges and flooding parts of the city’s subway system. Strong winds, rain and flooding battered New Jersey and New York throughout the 29th, with Staten Island suffering some of the worst damage. The final two days of October saw Sandy weakening and eventually dispelling over western Pennsylvania. The death toll in the US has been recently totaled at 109, with at least 40 in New York City.

One of the most destructive storms in US history, Hurricane Sandy is said to have been exacerbated by climate change and rising sea levels. Sandy broke storm surge records at 13.2 feet in New York’s Battery Park. Climatologist Michael Mann says that at least “1 foot of those 13.2 feet was arguably due to sea-level rise.” Temperature changes on the sea surface as well as warmer temperatures over Greenland also contributed to the storm’s intensity, continued Mann. Greenland set records in August this year for glacier melting, causing increases in surface temperatures and plausibly contributing to the redistribution of air masses which may have caused Sandy’s left-turn toward New York and New Jersey. Mann emphasises that climate change is of course not the sole cause of the hurricane, but certainly contributed to its severity. Climatologists are predicting more frequent and extreme storm systems in the future.

The effects of Sandy are still being felt. Santiago’s electrical grid is only at 28% of normal operation, while approximately 890 schools were damaged, leaving many students to relocate to other schools or gather in local libraries and homes to continue lessons. Millions of homes and businesses in the US are destroyed or without power while some hospitals are operating on backup generators. The aftermath of the storm impacted the election as well, as not only had many New York residents been made homeless by the storm, but makeshift voting tents, diminished public transit and relocated polling sites made it difficult for voters to turn out. The highest projected cost of the storm is at US$60 billion. While climate experts predict an ominous future for weather patterns, city officials are now being forced to plan for future events, improve evacuation planning, hospital facilities and reinforcing New York’s subway system.

Photo credit: EUMETSAT

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