Anthropogenic Climate Change Exacerbated Impacts of Hurricane Sandy, Study Says

  • 2 June 2021

In a recent study co-funded by CPO's Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program published in Nature Communications, the Urban Northest RISA's (CCRUN) Philip Orton along with researchers from Climate Central, Rutgers, and other institutions, confirmed the widespread notion that the flood impacts of Hurricane Sandy were worse because of anthropogenic-induced sea level rise. The team’s simulations indicated that approximately $8.1 billion of Sandy’s damages are attributable to climate-mediated anthropogenic sea level rise. Results also estimated that an additional 71,000 people were affected by the flooding that resulted from higher seas. The research represents a framework that can be used to assess human-caused damage of past and future coastal storms.

Using a high-resolution dynamic flood model, researchers established the link between anthropogenic climate change and global mean sea level rise, while showing that climate change made the storm more intense, increasing the amount of coastline flooding. Their computer model simulated the hurricane’s impact in various  tidal and sea level change scenarios, which helped them determine that about 87-92% of observed sea level rise in New York City can be directly linked to anthropogenic climate change.

Researchers also developed multiple and integrated estimates for both total and attributable sea level rise for the New York-area. For that region, the quantity estimated is sea level rise connected to modern climate change, thus excluding the effects of glacial fluctuations. The group was able successfully re-create the event and pinpoint the aspects of it and its ensuing impact were caused or worsened by climate change. And because the connection between climate change and storms like Sandy need more research, the group wanted to hone in on coastal flooding specifically.

Overall, the study raises critical questions surrounding the increased impacts climate-driven natural disasters have economically, including more common and severe flood events in the Deep South and the increase in more intense tropical storms and hurricanes. Hurricane Sandy ravaged the American northeast in October 2012 causing over $60 billion in damage and killing at least 125 people.

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Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather.