The peak of Atlantic hurricane season is here.
According to NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, September 10 has seen more hurricanes and tropical storms per 100 years than any other day on the calendar.
Although no storms are expected to hit land in the next few days, the annual number of tropical storms big enough to get a name (like Hermine or Sandy) has been growing significantly in recent years. In 2015, there were 101 of them — many more than the average of 82 that occurred between 1981 and 2010.
That’s especially worrisome for coastal cities like New York. As sea levels rise, major storms that currently have a 1% chance of happening (what scientists often call “100 year” storms) will become much more likely — and even more damaging.
Even if countries around the world stick to the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep emissions low enough to prevent Earth’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the ocean will rise significantly. And with higher sea levels comes more flooding.
As a recent New York Magazine article points out, by the 2050s, upper estimates suggest New York’s sea level could have already risen by nearly 2.5 feet. The New York City Panel on Climate Change suggests that could cause 72 square miles of land to get flooded in a 100-year storm.
That’s 23.6% of the entire city. Under those conditions, Coney Island would all but disappear. The runways at John F. Kennedy Airport would be underwater, as would most of Manhattan’s East Village and nearly every one of the popular beach destinations in Queens.
By the 2100s, that area could jump to 91 square miles in a comparable storm — which means water would cover nearly 30% of New York City. Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, by comparison, exceeded estimates for a 100-year storm at the time, but only flooded 17% of the city — 51 square miles.
And if that wasn’t sobering enough, here’s the other problem: Climate change will probably make these 100-year weather events much more common. In 35 years, the likelihood of storms that we consider to have a 1% chance of occurring today will increase to anywhere between 1.4% to 3.6%.
So it’s possible we’ll be seeing three Sandys a century by the 2050s. Come the 2080s, upper estimates put the chances of a 100-year storm at 12.7% — meaning Sandy-level devastation could come as frequently as every eight years (with even more flooding). The city’s current subway infrastructure wouldn’t stand a chance.
New York is working to repopulate its coastal oyster beds and build a barrier to protect the city against storm surges, but there’s a good chance these efforts will simply not be enough.
Investing in waterfront real estate is starting to seem like a very bad idea.