AS ocean waters warm, the Northeast is likely to face more Sandy-like storms. And as sea levels continue to rise, the surges of these future storms will be higher and even more deadly. We can’t stop these powerful storms. But we can reduce the deaths and damage they cause.
Hurricane Sandy’s immense power, which destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, actually pushed the footprints of the barrier islands along the South Shore of Long Island and the Jersey Shore landward as the storm carried precious beach sand out to deep waters or swept it across the islands. This process of barrier-island migration toward the mainland has gone on for 10,000 years.
Yet there is already a push to rebuild homes close to the beach and bring back the shorelines to where they were. The federal government encourages this: there will be billions available to replace roads, pipelines and other infrastructure and to clean up storm debris, provide security and emergency housing. Claims to the National Flood Insurance Program could reach $7 billion. And the Army Corps of Engineers will be ready to mobilize its sand-pumping dredges, dump trucks and bulldozers to rebuild beaches washed away time and again.
Scientists are finding evidence that man-made climate change has raised the risks of individual weather events, such as floods or heatwaves, marking a big step towards pinpointing local costs and ways to adapt to freak conditions.
“We’re seeing a great deal of progress in attributing a human fingerprint to the probability of particular events or series of events,” said Christopher Field, co-chairman of a U.N. report due in 2014 about the impacts of climate change.
Experts have long blamed a build-up of greenhouse gas emissions for raising worldwide temperatures and causing desertification, floods, droughts, heatwaves, more powerful storms and rising sea levels.
But until recently they have said that naturally very hot, wet, cold, dry or windy weather might explain any single extreme event, like the current drought in the United States or a rare melt of ice in Greenland in July.
But for some extremes, that is now changing.
A study this month, for instance, showed that greenhouse gas emissions had raised the chances of the severe heatwave in Texas in 2011 and unusual heat in Britain in late 2011. Other studies of extremes are under way.
Growing evidence that the dice are loaded towards ever more severe local weather may make it easier for experts to explain global warming to the public, pin down costs and guide investments in everything from roads to flood defenses.
Rescuers searched for survivors Saturday after powerful storms spawned tornadoes that killed dozens as they ripped through the South and Midwest, flattening towns and turning churches into shelters.
At least 28 people were killed: 15 in Indiana, 12 in Kentucky and one in Ohio.
Rescue workers combed through rubble overnight for dozens believed missing after the storms struck Friday, according to state and local authorities.
“This is an enormous outbreak that’s going on right now across Kentucky and the south,” National Weather Service meteorologist John Gordon said. “It’s crazy. It’s just nuts right here.”
In hard-hit Henryville, Indiana, rescuers searched for survivors after a tornado swept through the town 20 miles north of Louisville, leveling neighborhoods, sending school buses into buildings and demolishing businesses.
“What we know is we’ve got complete destruction. We’re going to deal with it the best we can,” Sgt. Jerry Goodwin of the Indiana State Police Department told CNN affiliate WISH-TV late Friday. “We’re going to come together, and we’re going to get it done.”
With power out, authorities relied on thermal radar imaging, and search and rescue dogs to try to find a 9-year-old boy missing after the tornado struck, said Maj. Chuck Adams, a sheriff’s department spokesman.
At St. Francis Xavier Church, which was serving as a meeting and reunion point for families in Henryville, dozens waited for news of loved ones as rescue crews combed through debris.
Amid the mounting reports of death and destruction, there were miracles.
A 2-year-old girl was found alive, alone and injured in a field in Salem, about 20 miles south of Henrysville, Adams said.
No one is sure how the toddler ended up alone in the field.