Surging storms: Can the US adapt in time to avert coastal damage?
Damage from severe storms such as Sandy is likely to escalate by the end of the century as the population grows and people continue to build along the Eastern Seaboard.
(Page 2 of 3)
A hot spot for rising sea level
Meanwhile, USGS researchers identify the coastline from Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, N.C., as a "unique" hot spot for sea level rise. Rates of sea level rise there are three to four times the global average, even after taking changes in land elevation into account, according to their recent study.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Sandy: Chronicle of an unrelenting storm
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
For New York City, in particular, a one-meter sea level rise, coupled with hurricanes that are more intense and more frequent, could by the end of the century turn a once-in-100-year-average surge flood, such as Sandy delivered, to once in three to 20 years, states a study published in February by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University.
That estimate is only the latest to underscore the need to adapt to greater threat of flooding due to surges from coastal storms, as well as from other extreme events.
"We're doing a bad job of living on a planet that does its business by extreme events," says William Hooke, director of the policy program at the American Meteorological Society, based in Boston.
Pre-storm forecasting and post-storm emergency responses are getting better. "We're mastering that," he says. "But we should be spending an equal amount of time on trying to reduce the need for that emergency response in the first place."
That point is underscored by an August report by the National Academies titled "Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative."
"Business as usual isn't going to protect us from future extreme events," says Gerald Galloway Jr., a University of Maryland engineering professor who served on the panel that produced the resilience report.
That recognition is already driving efforts to develop key elements of a modern world that are hardier – or at least that can be repaired sooner – when severe coastal storms strike.
Take electricity, often one of the first infrastructure casualties and, in some places, one of the last to be restored. One step that could be taken now is to bury power lines, notes Arshad Mansoor, senior vice president of the research and development group at the Electric Power Research Institute, based in Palo Alto, Calif. The priority, he adds, are lines serving a handful of customers "out there in the boonies." The reason, he says, is that feeder lines in cities and near suburbs tend to be easier to reach and repair. But technicians can't pump electricity into them until the most distant downed lines are located and fixed.
In addition, researchers are working to design poles that are more wind-resistant and water-repellent coatings for cables. Such coatings would pay dividends during winter storms, Mr. Mansoor says, by reducing the buildup of ice on lines, which can bring them down.