As East Coasters still struggle to fully comprehend the damage caused by Sandy, thoughts are turning to how we can prepare for the possibility of another superstorm. It turns out the Dutch have already done some of out-of-the-box thinking that we could use to craft our own modern-day stormproofing plan.
New York City, like much of Holland, is built on low-lying land that’s susceptible to the kind of surges caused by Hurricane Sandy. One Dutch solution was to make its coastline smaller wherever possible.
After a devastating flood in 1916, the Dutch government built a complex system of dams, known as the Zuiderzee Works, to convert a former inlet of the North Sea into what’s essentially a nice lake. Today, a coastal highway runs along the area, and the flood-control system protects a large area of the country, including Amsterdam. There hasn’t been a severe flood in the region since the dams were built. In the southwestern part of the country, the Delta Works, a different system of dams and other flood-control measures, was put into place.
Experts argue that New York and New Jersey would be able to use a similar system. Engineering aside, the real impediment to such a plan, of course, is the price tag. A seminar at NYU in 2009 projected the cost to be in the neighborhood of $15 billion, but early estimates have Sandy costing $60 billion in property damage alone. Perhaps a large investment would be worth it.
The flood that Hurricane Sandy sent over lower Manhattan and other parts of the region on Monday (Oct. 29) was one for the record books; it was the largest storm surge in New York City’s history. But as unusual as this storm was, it may have offered a hint of the future in a warming world.
Boosted by a high tide, the water level at The Battery, at the southern tip of Manhattan, measured as high as 13.88 feet (4.2 meters) on Monday. The flooding there and in surrounding areas caused power outages, swamped roads and train tunnels, caused massive property damage and crippled the region for days and counting.
But, the identity of a severe storm aside, the devastating coastal flooding they bring to places such as New York City are expected to increase as the world warms.
The city’s location, which is positioned at the peak of the right angle made by Long Island and New Jersey, contributes to its vulnerability because storm winds travel counterclockwise and so push water in the direction of New York and New Jersey. However, Long Island, which juts to the east, blocks the path of the water, which must then travel through the group of islands that make up most of New York City.
The future of tropical cyclones, which include hurricanes, under climate change is not well-understood. Globally, these storms may become less frequent, although modeling studies suggest they may also become more intense. Projections vary depending on the ocean basin in question, according to a report on extreme weather issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year.
When both sea level and the future of severe storms were taken into account, the models projected much more frequent extreme surge flooding in the New York City area.