Two years have passed since Hurricane Sandy arrived on the East Coast with its record low pressure, massive 1,000 mile wide wind field,and tremendous, record-breaking storm surge. Many communities have recovered, but for those communities most impacted, the hurricane has left an indelible mark on both the landscape and the psyche of the citizens. Simple bungalows or single family homes have been replaced with modular homes with their first floors rising 10 feet in the air; stretches of empty sand lots, formerly occupied by 100 year old mansions, are now home to dunes and construction equipment. People have returned to find landmarks and cornerstones of communities still missing, washed away by the ocean, and lives seemingly forever changed. Peter Reinhart of Monmouth University, in Long Branch, NJ, perhaps says it best: "Everyone's love and history of the Jersey Shore is shaped by sensory memories, remembering the sights, sounds and smells of the Jersey Shore. Some of that vision memory is only just that now — a memory."
This holds true not only for the Jersey Shore, but the Raritan Bay communities of New Jersey, Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn and other parts of the New York/New Jersey metro area so utterly and totally devastated on October 29, 2012. But for all of the terrible images, heartbreaking loss and devastation Sandy brought,the storm did not bring a powerful wind field to match its monstrous storm surge. History shows this scenario is entirely possible, and for as bad as Sandy was, there are events which would be infinitely worse.
The year was 1821. The country of Mexico was declaring its independence from Spain, the United States was comprised of 22 states, and Lexington and Park Avenues in Manhattan did not yet exist. In early September of that year, a powerful hurricane, now known on the 1821 Norfolk Long Island hurricane, slammed into the coast of North Carolina and carved a path of destruction up the East Coast.The hurricane was an unprecedented event for the fledgling country, with towns and communities being laid in ruins due to powerful winds and extreme storm surge. The editor of the "Norfolk Herald," described the immense damage inflicted upon Norfolk, from the ship yards to homes. Charles Ludlam of Cape May reported that destruction was everywhere following the storm. The "New York Post," said utter devastation was left in the storms' wake, while the "Long Island Star," called the damage left after the hurricane the most awful ever experienced.
We know the newspaper reports weave a terrible tale, and academic studies find the storm, using available observations, confirm reports of the storm's intensity. But what would it cost if it hit today, bringing its winds and surge to the now heavily developed Eastern Seaboard, putting trillions of dollars of homes, businesses and infrastructure in its path? Times have certainly changed since 1821; gone are the farms and mansions of Manhattan,replaced by high rises and sky scrapers. The Jersey Shore and Outer Banks, sparsely populated in the early 19thcentury, are now the beloved summertime destinations of millions. Norfolk, Virginia is currently a major naval base. What hasn't changed is the East Coast's hurricane exposure; we are just as exposed today as we were 200 years,in fact, even more so due to the increasing water levels in the Atlantic Ocean.
In our new report, The Big One: The East Coast's $100 Billion Hurricane Event, we answer this question by reconstructing a track, wind field and possible storm surge inundations for this hurricane and calculating potential losses. The numbers are staggering; over $100 billion of physical damage and over $150 billion in economic losses. Hurricane Sandy was a harsh reminder of the Northeast's hurricane exposure and a game changer for so many; a recurrence the 1821 Norfolk Long Island hurricane would potentially irreversibly change the economy and culture of the oldest part of the United States.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience
Location: New York and New Jersey, United States