Hurricane Sandy, One Year Later

October 28, 2013

The year since Hurricane Sandy blew ashore in the New York area has been one of rebuilding and searching for how best to prevent the level of destruction and death it brought with it.

Columbia, with experts across multiple schools and disciplines and broad expertise in climate science, has played an important role in the recovery. “We have 700 people in the Earth Institute working on this,” said Steve Cohen, the institute’s executive director. “The Lamont Doherty Observatory has close to 100 doctoral-level scientists working on this all the time.”

Columbia students and staffers helped communities rebuild. Scores of Columbia scientists have been explaining the causes behind the storm in hundreds of media interviews. Columbia professors serve on government panels that study how to prevent future damage and make recommendations to elected officials on preparedness and infrastructure changes.

Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist at the Columbia-affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, as well as and an adjunct senior research scientist at the Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research. She is co-chair of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, which was created in 2007 after a severe storm wiped out subway service throughout the city for a day. The panel released a prescient report in 2010 on how to protect the city’s critical infrastructure from the risks of a changing climate, recommendations that were put to use during Hurricane Sandy.

Days after the storm, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Irwin Redlener, a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health and director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, co-chair of the NYS Ready Commission. Its report, with specific recommendations on improving the state’s infrastructure, was released in January.

Klaus Jacob, a special research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, has been sounding the alarm on New York’s vulnerability to extreme weather patterns for years. After Hurricane Irene in 2011, he helped write a case study that looked at what would happen to the city’s transportation infrastructure if the city were hit with a 100-year storm. He was, unfortunately, right on target when Hurrricane Sandy blew in a year later.

Atmospheric scientist Adam Sobel got so many calls from media outlets in the aftermath of the storm that “it got me thinking about all the different aspects of this disastrous event,” he said. “It just seemed at some point like a good idea for a class.” This past spring, “Hurricane Sandy: Science, Impacts, Responses” was offered to small group of students, and featured guest speakers from the city’s FEMA office, coastal geologists, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and many professors at Columbia. “It was a broad discussion about the storm,” Sobel said.

In the days leading up to the Sandy anniversary, climate systems research scientist Radley Horton of the Earth Institute explained why such extensive coastal flooding events are likely to become more frequent. “Sea levels are rising primarily because of greenhouse gases,” he said. “Even if storms stay the same, the higher sea level rise alone is going to mean more frequent coastal flooding and more destructive coastal flooding when it happens.”

Now, on the anniversary itself of the destructive storm, we launch a series of stories about the latest research of Columbia scientists working on climate change, sustainability and resilience.