Friday, November 09, 2012

Coastal Lessons from a Superstorm

What we can learn from "Superstorm" Sandy

If you still wondered whether the coastal zones are at risk we assume that "Superstorm" Sandy, which hit the Northeast of the United States of America in November 2012, has convinced you.

 Here is a good description of the aftermath of this storm.

Sandy courtesy of NOAA

“More than 8 million people lost power, the result of wind, flooding and heavy snow. New York City's intricate subway system suffered the most extensive damage in its 108-year history. The New York Stock Exchange closed for two consecutive days, the first time that had happened because of weather since 1888. The surf in New York Harbor reached a record 32.5 feet -- 6.5 feet taller than a wave spawned by Hurricane Irene. A record high water level also was set at Battery Park in Manhattan, where the surge peaked at 13.88 feet.

Damage estimates put the cost of the storm around $50 billion, the second costliest storm in history, behind Hurricane Katrina.

At least 23 states felt the effects of Sandy, which morphed from a hurricane into a wintry superstorm stretching nearly 600 miles. Sandy was so big, forecasters said, that if it had been a country it would have ranked as the 20th-largest in the world.”  CNN US.

What is the takeaway?

First of all, coastal living is NOT all about balmy breezes, gentle breakers, sandy beaches, and chill. Well, sometimes it is but all of that can change overnight because the ocean is a powerful force and weather systems can make it angry, destructive, and deadly.

Second, our infrastructure, building codes, and regulations are now outdated IF there is real climate change coming. A significant part of New York City was flooded including subways and tunnels. Moreover, electrical systems which are underground in New York were inundated, hospitals lost power, backup generators failed because they had been installed wrong.

A brouhaha also exploded over the loss of electrical power. “Damage from Superstorm Sandy to the electricity system in the U.S. Northeast exposed deep flaws in the structure and regulation of power utilities that will require a complete redesign, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. But at least some members of one utility oversight panel later fired back, saying it was the governor who should take responsibility. "We're going to have to look at a ground-up redesign," Cuomo said while criticizing the utilities he called virtual monopolies run by nameless and faceless bureaucrats.”
Decades of regulation went dawn the drain so to speak when Sandy punished the local ecosystems with the storm dumping of fuel, toxic chemicals, litter, garbage, debris, asbestos, and every kind of dangerous, damaging flotsam into the ocean, beaches, coast, wetlands, and rivers.

For students of coastal policy this storm was a tragic but perfect case study of all the interconnected factors that constitute the challenge of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).
Recovery: Many agencies at the local, county, state and federal level are involved in responding to a coastal disaster. Private charities and non-profits as well as the Red Cross also mobilize.
Then there is NOAA. “NOAA continues to work in partnership with other federal, state, and local partners in response to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. NOAA’s efforts are focused on navigation surveys to restore maritime commerce; aerial surveys to assist in those efforts and to aid on-the-ground responders from FEMA and local authorities; and in oil spill cleanup and damage assessment.  NOAA’s National Weather Service is also keeping authorities aware of changing weather conditions that could impact recovery and response efforts.”

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