New study exposes multi-billion dollar factor in Superstorm Sandy's destruction
Climate change caused billions of dollars worth of damage in Hurricane Sandy.
A new study has found that roughly 13%, or $8 billion, of the $62.7 billion in damages across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 can be attributed to rising sea levels from human-caused climate change.
The authors of the study, Economic damages from Hurricane Sandy attributable to sea-level rise caused by anthropogenic climate change, published Tuesday by Nature Communications and led by researchers from Princeton, New Jersey-based Climate Central, Stevens Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, used historical and alternative sea-level reconstructions alongside flood simulations to determine how much climate change contributed to damage during the storm.
Image of Hurricane Sandy at 1:45 p.m. EDT on Oct. 28, 2012. (GOES-13/NASA Earth Observatory)
The researchers' conclusion was that climate change caused roughly 4 inches of additional flooding.
The study found that thousands of people and homes were impacted and billions of dollars in damage caused by the roughly 4 inches that were attributed to human-caused sea-level rise in the New York area, or about 55% of all sea-level rise observed in the area since 1900.
"Just a handswidth of sea-level rise from climate change caused more than 10 percent of the damage from Sandy's towering floodwaters," author Dr. Benjamin Strauss, chief scientist and CEO of Climate Central said in a press release. "The implications are enormous ... Human-caused sea-level rise is already making every coastal flood more destructive and costly. Our approach can be applied to other past or future storms or even just the high tide flooding that's becoming so common around the world. The costs of climate change are likely much greater than we appreciate today."
A large sailboat blocks the waterfront walkway in Hoboken, NJ, on Nov. 5, 2012. The boat was carried in when the storm surge from Superstorm Sandy flooded Hoboken, along with lower Manhattan and many other parts of the NJ coastline. In the days after the catastrophe, someone wrote the message 'Global Warming Is Real' on the side of the shipwrecked vessel. (AccuWeather / Andrew Tavani)
As a note, the cost figures that researchers worked with were the original costs set back in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, which means that the present day cost of this "handswidth of sea-level rise" is likely much higher.
While it's challenging, to say the least, to attribute human activity to a single weather event, researchers in this study used two independent modeling and budget-based approaches, both of which produced similar findings, to estimate the human-caused sea-level rise in the New York area. They then performed flood and damage modeling to draft a range of estimates of how much more damage from Sandy in the area resulted from sea-level rise.
What they found was that the higher sea levels in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut meant that not only could Sandy's storm surge reach farther inland than it otherwise would have been able to do, but it was deeper throughout the affected area, causing more damage than what would have been expected in a world without sea-level rise.
Heightened water levels allowed the infamous storm surge from Hurricane Sandy to reach 36,000 more homes and affect 71,000 more people, according to the study.
FILE - This Oct. 31, 2012 file photo shows destroyed homes left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in Ortley Beach, N.J. C (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
Sandy was a devastating cyclone that originated in the Caribbean before tracking through the Greater Antilles and parallel to the U.S. East Coast. In late October, it veered west-northwestward, sloshing into New Jersey as a post-tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of around 80 mph on Oct. 29, 2012. However, the winds weren't the heavy-hitter.
Due to its tremendous size, Sandy drove what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called "a catastrophic storm surge" into the coastlines of New Jersey and New York, and the New York City metropolitan area saw its highest water level in nearly 300 years.
At least 147 direct deaths were blamed on Sandy, with 41 of the 72 of the direct deaths in the U.S., or 57%, attributed to the storm surge. Another 87 indirect fatalities in the U.S. were associated with the storm as a result of power outages during cold weather and storm cleanup efforts. In terms of financial loss, Sandy racked up a price tag of more than $60 billion in damages for the country.
This Nov. 15, 2012 photo shows a house in Sea Bright N.J. that was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy little over two weeks earlier. On June 16, 2014, the U.S. Department of the Interior awarded $102 million to 11 states to protect against future storms. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
Wind caused less than 0.01% of the damage across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to FEMA models, and the study reasoned that, because wind was such a minimal factor, nearly all of the costs from Sandy could be treated as coastal flood damages. It also reasoned that riverine flood damages were likely negligible since rainfall totals from Oct. 27-31 for most of the tri-state region were nearly an inch (about 2.5 cm) or lower.
Sandy damaged or destroyed an estimated 650,000 houses, according to NOAA, and about 8.5 million customers lost power as a result of the storm at its varying levels of strength.
Here's a look at how the study broke down how anthropogenic sea-level rise (ASLR) impacted each of the three states by their median estimates.
New York saw some of the highest estimates of flooding with up to 12.65 feet above normal tide levels measured at Kings Point on the western side of Long Island Sound, an estuary that is situated on the northern coast of Long Island and the southern coast of Connecticut.
A storm surge of 9.56 feet above normal tide levels was recorded at Bergen Point West Reach, north of Staten Island, and 9.4 feet was reported at the Battery on the southern tip of Manhattan, according to early reports.
FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2012, file photo, seawater floods the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel during Superstorm Sandy in New York. Mayor Bill de Blasio is announcing a plan, Thursday, March 14, 2019, to protect lower Manhattan from rising sea levels by surrounding it with earthen berms and extending its shoreline by as much as 500 feet. Officials have been developing schemes to fortify New York City's waterfront ever since Superstorm Sandy destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in 2012. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo, File)
The state also saw the highest number of deaths in the U.S. from Sandy, with 48 fatalities.
Of the people impacted by Sandy in New York, roughly 9.5%, or around 45,000 people, were exposed to flooding from Sandy due to ASLR along with 9.2%, or 18,900, of the affected housing units.
Roughly 13.3% of the damage is attributed to ASLR, amounting to $4.2 billion.
Sandy made landfall as a post-tropical cyclone near Brigantine, New Jersey, just northeast of Atlantic City, on Oct. 29, 2012.
FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2012, file photo, a firehouse is surrounded by floodwaters in the wake of superstorm Sandy in Hoboken, N.J. An ambitious plan to protect three New Jersey cities just outside New York from the type of major flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy is moving forward. New Jersey officials have settled on the boundaries of a $230 million project in Hoboken, Jersey City and Weehawken. It calls for flood walls protecting neighborhoods, an NJ Transit rail yard, a hospital, and police and fire stations. Hoboken was inundated by the 2012 storm; Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, is its sixth anniversary. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
The highest total storm surge that it brought was measured up to 8.57 feet above normal tide levels at the northern end of Sandy Hook in the Gateway National Recreation Area, according to NOAA. However, the station failed and stopped reporting during the storm, so it's possible that the actual storm surge was higher.
ASLR, the study noted, accounted for $3.7 billion of the damage, and roughly 24,500 people and 16,700 housing units were impacted due to its reach.
FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2012, file photo, Ken Esposito, left, helps his neighbor Rob Hoxie sandbag his beachfront home before high tide in Milford, Conn., a day after Superstorm Sandy made landfall. Mayor Ben Blake, of Milford, which boasts the longest shoreline in Connecticut, said 2,000 properties were affected by the storm, with 250 substantially damaged and more than 50 percent destroyed. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)
To the north, Connecticut recorded a storm surge of 9.83 feet above normal tide levels at Bridgeport, and a gauge in New Haven measured a surge of 9.14 feet, according to NOAA. Both caused record water levels at each station.
An estimated 1,100 people and 620 homes were impacted due to ASLR, with roughly $180 million in damages attributed to its reach.
"The human impact of climate change is clear and costly," said Dr. Daniel Gilford, postdoctoral associate at Rutgers University and Climate Scientist at Climate Central in the press release. "As the effects of climate change grow more frequent and more severe, documenting human impact (as we have done here) is critical to understanding and reducing our adverse contributions to the climate system."
Sea levels continue to rise an average of 3 mm per year -- about one-twelfth of an inch -- if not more, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and climate expert Brett Anderson, and he warned that a similar "Sandy-type" storm will likely produce even worse flooding as the trend continues.
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