A few items to share in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy:
Prediction: As the son of a meteorologist, I feel obligated to note that this storm was very well forecast. Given a broader critique of science on a number of fronts, the accuracy of the forecast and the warning it provided is worth noting. For other examples of pushback against reason, see: Frontline on climate change; the various reactions against Nate Silver; Michael Gerson’s trouble understanding statistics, etc. (I thought Ta Nehisi Coates has written well in response to this assault on logic, reason, and objectivity). Nate Silver devoted a chapter to meteorology in his recent book, much of which is discussed in this teaser in the New York Times entitled “The weatherman is not a moron.”
Accurate prediction for storms like this gives lots of time to prepare. While I was attending the NACTO conference in New York, I had a chance to visit NYC DOT’s traffic management center in Long Island City on Friday afternoon before Sandy hit; city officials were preparing for the storm well in advance at the time, thanks to a good forecast.
Resiliency: Prediction can help you prepare on a shorter timescale, but ensuring our cities are resilient to these kinds of events requires a whole host of other adaptations. Some ideas:
- The case for restoring tidal marshes and wetlands. Borrowing the phrase from DC Water’s George Hawkins (in a different context), these natural defense would make cities ‘spongier.’
- Debating the potential for sea gates. The US Army Corps of Engineers notes that cities and regions must take the lead.
- Smaller scale fixes, like protecting subway vents, (slightly) elevated infrastructure, etc – the kinds of things that are “mundane but obvious.“
Recovery: Leaving aside the opportunities for hardening vulnerable infrastructure like New York’s subway, the response and rather fast recovery of New York’s subway system (given the extent of flooding) is remarkable. New York Magazine tells the story:
The first thing the MTA did right was informed by a colossal mistake. After the 2010 blizzard, which embarrassed the mayor and took out the subway for days, the MTA was too slow bringing its trains and equipment somewhere safe and dry. “We kind of dropped the ball and we learned from that,” said Tom Prendergast, president of New York City Transit, the part of the MTA that handles city subways and buses. This time the MTA shut everything down on Sunday evening, the day before the storm arrived. Waiting longer would have wasted time and man power needed for the cleanup afterwards.…In the future, Prendergast says, the system will have to rethink the way it designs its infrastructure. At the very least, ventilation ducts and gratings should be moved higher up or built so that they can be covered and made water-tight along with station entrances.