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August 28 2012


Education a Key to Hurricane Evacuations, City Finds

Although its report is not final, the New York City Office of Emergency Management has found that city residents advised in advance on the dangers of hurricanes and other storms are much more likely to evacuate.

February 13 2012


Will Hurricanes Topple U.S. Wind Turbines?

Of the offshore sites where wind power is being considered or developed, Galveston County in Texas was the riskiest, followed by Dare County in North Carolina, researchers found.
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September 14 2011


Can Lightning Predict Hurricanes?

A company says that its networks of sensors for electrical activity can help agencies and utilities figure out in advance how severe a developing hurricane is likely to be.

August 25 2011


Hurricane Irene, Climate Change, and the Need to Consider Worst Case Scenarios

In May of 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina, I wrote an article that nobody noticed. It was entitled “Thinking Big About Hurricanes: It’s Time to Get Serious About Saving New Orleans.” In it, I talked about how devastating a strong hurricane landfall could be to my home city:

In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it’s possible that only those crow’s nests [of lakefront houses] would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical “bowl” of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris.

Afterwards, the article was passed around furiously and I was hailed for having some sort of deep insight. I didn’t: The danger was staggeringly obvious and I was only channeling what many experts at the time knew.

With all eyes now focused on Hurricane Irene, which threatens a series of U.S. east coast landfalls, it is time to think seriously once again about worst case scenarios—and also, about how global warming could amplify them. And no, I am not saying that Irene threatens to bring about a worst case, that global warming caused Irene, or taking any other silly reductionist position.

Rather, I’m saying that Irene focuses our attention on our serious vulnerability, and we need to seize that moment--because too often our default position is to act like nothing bad is going to happen.

There are several places in the United States, besides New Orleans, where a strong hurricane landfall could be absolutely devastating. These include the Florida Keys, the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, and Houston/Galveston. But they also include some east coast locations, and chief among these is New York/Long Island.

This last is currently within the forecast cone for Irene. That’s not saying that the storm portends anything like a worst-case scenario for New York City—it seems likely to be pretty weak by then, forecast tracks often change, etc—but it still could be bad if it goes directly at Manhattan. Simply put, there is a lot of wealth and personal property along that path.

The precise impact of any storm depends upon innumerable factors that cannot be known in advance. This include the storm's size, speed, angle of approach, and much else. So I am not forecasting anything about Irene--I'm just saying it's time to look at worst cases in general.

What's the worst case for New York City, as the world warms and sea levels rise? Here's what I wrote in my 2007 book Storm World:

Even as we act immediately to curtail short term vulnerability, every exposed coastal city needs a risk assessment that takes global warming scenarios into account....Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have been studying that city's vulnerability to hurricane impacts in a changing world, and calculated that with 1.5 feet of sea level rise, a worst-case-scenario Category 3 hurricane could submerge "the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge.” (Pause and think about that for a second.)

We live in a presentist country that rarely pays attention to long term risks or worst case scenarios, until it is too late. That’s what happened to poor New Orleans—and it’s only a matter of time until it happens somewhere else. When it comes to hurricane disasters in particular, rising sea levels make the risk steadily worse over time, whether or not hurricanes themselves get much stronger.

So what are our major coastal cities doing to protect themselves? That’s the question we should all be asking right now.

February 04 2011


Rescuing the Earth's Weather History

Widespread, highly accurate temperature observations began only in the mid-19th century, and global coverage was obtained only in the 20th century. This scanty record hurts modern climatology in many ways.

November 10 2010


U.S. Dodges Bullet in Busy Hurricane Season

Using statistical analysis, scientists suggested that the chances of the United States coast being hit by a hurricane in a season this active were higher than 95 percent. But it didn't happen.

September 20 2010


August 04 2010


July 14 2010


A Warm Atlantic Stokes Hurricane Fears

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned that 2010 might well experience one of the busiest Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, with between 14 and 23 named storms.

September 14 2009


Estimating the Cost of Climate Risks for Developing Countries

From the Global Environment Facility (GEF): Climate Change Risks could cost Developing countries up to 19% of GDP by 2030 Report says action on climate adaptation may significantly reduce losses and increase economic sustainability. A report from the Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group released today indicates that climate risks could cost nations up to 19% of their [...]
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