Northeast U.S. Slowly Recovers from Sandy: A Taste of Storms to Come?

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Extreme weather

It’s hard to believe that it was only a week ago that those of us living along the Eastern Seaboard were bracing for landfall of Hurricane Sandy. Gutters had been cleared of leaves, windows boarded, batteries and bottled water were stocked and the waiting was underway.

As many in the storm’s projected path awoke Monday to occasional, gusty winds and light rain, some may have wondered if it was all weather hype. But the forecasts for a “frankenstorm,” eventually delivered. Sandy, one of the largest-ever Atlantic hurricanes, brought damaging winds to the Northeast, blizzards to West Virginia and record storm surge as wind-driven waves inundated low-lying coastal communities.

In the long days after the storm, floods, fires, power outages and transportation disruptions gripped the New York metropolitan area as the country came together to respond to the historic devastation on the New Jersey shore, parts of New York City and the coast of Connecticut. New Yorkers cheered Saturday as Manhattan saw power restored, but communities are mourning the death of more than 100 people in the U.S. alone and thousands remain homeless as disaster aid agencies and volunteers work to provide food, water and shelter from the cold.

In the wake of Sandy, dubbed a hybrid, “superstorm” by the media, the national conversation has also focused — in the days leading up to the presidential election — on climate change.  The cover of Bloomberg Business Week blared a huge headline, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid!” and columnist Paul Barrett wrote:

“Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they’re right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.”

Reporters also called The Nature Conservancy to ask how we can all better prepare for future storms.

In an opinion article in today’s Christian Science Monitor, Mark Tercek, the Conservancy’s President & CEO, offered  the following “Four “smart” ways to rebuild after Sandy:”

  1. Reduce carbon pollution: There is an urgent need to reduce the carbon pollution that is affecting Earth’s climate and increasing the possibility of extreme weather events.
  2. Development must restore natural infrastructure: Communities can build back smarter, helping nature to help protect us.
  3. Nature and man-made systems can cooperate: Nature can also work in conjunction with man-made structures to enhance their effectiveness and reduce their costs.
  4. Use data to decide when and how to build: Governments, businesses, and communities need to make planning for future storms and climate risks part of business as usual.

Sarene Marshall, managing director of the Conservancy’s Global Climate Change team, was quoted in a CNN.com article, “Experts warn of superstorm era to come,” about ongoing work on Long Island and other coastal communities to identify risks of sea level rise and protect wetlands as coastal buffers to waves and wind. Check out the Conservancy’s Coastal Resilience.org site and Coastal Resilience Mapping Tool to learn more about this local mapping work.

Pointing “to the value of the humble oyster reef, nature’s version of the sea wall,” according to the article, Marshall noted that “every dollar spent in preventive measures saves $5 in disaster recovery, and that long-term investment in natural infrastructure is more effective than hard engineering.” The Conservancy estimates oyster reefs could reduce storm risks for 7 million Americans living on the shore, and other recent research highlights the value of nature in offering protection.

Another example of the Conservancy’s work to protect natural coastal infrastructure, the Cape May Meadows in southern New Jersey, was noted in an article by the Washington Post, “Coastal Cities Seek Protections Against Superstorms.” Near the site of an abandoned Victorian resort town that was overtaken by the ocean in the 1950s, a Conservancy project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers restored freshwater wetlands and beaches in the Cape May Meadows in 2007. Not only an important stop for migrating birds and a popular recreation spot, the site now also helps buffer nearby communities from flooding.

Marshall told CNN that the lack of debate about climate change in the presidential election campaign has been “unfortunate,” but that she believes Americans are “recognizing what they see for what it is.”

No doubt the conversation about Superstorm Sandy and climate change has only just begun. What do you think? Please share your comment, or your story about Sandy, below. Stay tuned to Planet Change to join in the ongoing discussion.

Lisa Hayden is a blogger for The Nature Conservancy

Featured photo by Flickr user: Greg Thompson/U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Northeast Region (Aerial photo of damage – a roller coaster in the surf – to Casino Pier amusement park in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, after Hurricane Sandy. Used under a Creative Commons license.)

Top photo by Flickr user Life Goes Through (Debris near a structure damaged by storm Sandy. Used under a Creative Commons license.)

Photo 2 by Flickr user The National Guard (Damage to coastal homes in New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy. Used under a Creative Commons license.)

Photo 3 © Andrew Kornylak (Jeff DeQuattro, Marine Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama examines artificial oyster reefs at a restoration site in Mobile Bay, Alabama, in the Gulf of Mexico.)

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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