This weekend marks five years since Sandy unleashed a devastating blow to the tri-state area, killing dozens of people, causing billions of dollars in damage, and disrupting thousands of lives.
On the anniversary of the storm, a new study shows extreme flooding that was once only expected every 500 years in the area may strike every five years if nothing is done to curtail human-driven climate change.
In late October 2012, low-lying areas in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island were inundated by Sandy. Forty-three people died in the city, many of them drowning in the storm surge.
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Future sea level rise and stronger storm surges could lead to a major increase in the frequency of floods reaching more than 2.25 meters in height — enough to flood the ground level of buildings. During Sandy, storm surge and high tide combined to push sea levels to a record height of 3.44 meters, according to CarbonBrief.org.
“When rising sea-levels combine with storm surge heights, flooding becomes much worse over time. For example, a 2.25m flood height, which occurred on average once every 500 years before 1800 in our work, and occurred once every 25 years on average from 1970-2005 in our study, could occur once every five years by 2030-2045 according to our results,” wrote Dr. Andra Garner, a Rutgers University researcher who is the lead author of the study.
For the new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers gathered information to create “synthetic storms” that might occur in New York in the coming decades. They then projected how much surge each storm would create at The Battery in Lower Manhattan.
While a more intense storm doesn’t necessarily mean a more intense storm surge, the findings showed rising sea levels will have an impact on the severity of flooding in the city, CarbonBrief.org reported.
“The bad news is that when sea level rise is added into the picture, it becomes clear that overall flood heights will become drastically worse in New York City in coming years,” Garner wrote.
The study shows that if emissions aren’t curbed, sea levels near New York could rise between 0.55 and 2.5 meters by 2100. Researchers combined these projections for sea level rise with the projected storm surge to estimate that from 2080 to 2100, flood heights could be 1.4 meters above average flood heights seen from 1970 to 2005.