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'Above normal' hurricane season coming. Is New York ready for another Sandy?

It’s been less than 10 months since hurricane Sandy sent surges of flooding saltwater into city streets and tunnels, and New York is still cleaning up – and mostly in the discussion phase about how to be better prepared.

By Staff Writer / August 9, 2013

This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration image shows Tropical Storm Dorian on July 24.

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New York

Weather forecasters are saying the East Coast could be in for another wind-whipping storm season, but is New York City prepared?

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It’s been less than 10 months since hurricane Sandy sent surges of flooding saltwater into city streets and tunnels, devastating coastal residences and shutting down much of Manhattan’s southern tip.

But while the city continues to work tirelessly to clean up Sandy’s ravages – helping more than 20,000 residents rebuild, distributing more than 3 million meals, and clearing nearly 700,000 tons of debris – it is still sifting through a dizzying host of recommendations, both large and small, as it tries to make the nation’s largest metropolis more resilient to future storms.

Yet most of these efforts remain in planning stages – or rather, as discussion topics. To date, city agencies have been able to do little more than shore up existing emergency procedures.

"The City has done an enormous amount of planning, and there are a number of concrete steps that have been taken, including the new evacuation zones and the reconstitution of our stockpile for our shelters," says Christopher Miller, spokesman for New York's Office of Emergency Management. "But some of the larger mitigation efforts will take more time."

Though experts say the likelihood of another Sandy-like storm hitting New York is minuscule, on Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there was a 70 percent chance this year’s Atlantic hurricane season would be “above normal,” predicting about six to nine hurricane-grade storms with sustained winds topping 74 mph. More ominously, the agency also said three to five of these storms could develop into major hurricanes, with winds of 111 mph or higher churning up the Atlantic Ocean and potentially threatening US coastal communities.

“I think if we had another Sandy this summer, I think there’s no question that the city would be better prepared,” says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who teaches the impact of climate change on cities. “But I don't think they've made massive changes to how we do things – they have just dealt with it once, and know what the challenges are, and can be better able to implement and execute [emergency procedures.]”

In May, the city released its “After-Action” report, an extensive review of how well city agencies were able to implement such procedures, offering suggestions for improvements. Among these were improving the city’s 311 and 911 services, expediting the purchase of public safety equipment, and developing more comprehensive power backups for street lights and city residences. But most of these recommendations are simply that: recommendations.

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