NYC Climatologist: ‘[Hurricane] Sandy Wasn’t The Big One’
Nicholas K. Coch, a professor of coastal geology at Queens College, had been warning for almost two decades that a major hurricane could take out New York. The habit earned Coch the nickname “Dr. Doom” — a sobriquet that he didn’t take kindly to. (“No serious scientist wants to be called Dr. Doom,” he says.)
Coch, who measures in at just over 6 feet 7 inches, calls himself a “forensic hurricanologist.” In 1989, he was part of a team of geologists who traveled to South Carolina to see the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. “I looked at Hugo and said, ‘This is the type of hurricane that’s gonna hit Long Island,’” he says. …
New York City is built atop bedrock, so rain that falls on the city stays on the surface, creating flash floods long before the heart of the storm arrives. When the storm does come, it brings a new surge of water, this time from the sea. “New York is a water city,” Coch says. “There’s really no place else in the world that has a more complicated water system.” In New York Harbor, there are three different tidal systems at work. …
“Sandy was not the Big One,” he says. “Sandy was a freak, caused by an extremely rare confluence of events.” One of those events was the massive “blocking ridge” that swatted the storm west into the city, rather than east into the North Atlantic. (Some have credited melting Arctic sea ice for creating that ridge.)
Sooner or later, Coch says, a major hurricane will barrel up the East Coast and hit New York broadside. Long Island juts out into the Atlantic at a nearly right angle, he points out, and will be the first significant topography a storm like that encounters on its path northward. Manhattan sits right on its heel.
Will New York be prepared? Coch says Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s climate resiliency plan is “a good first step.” Still, he doesn’t have much faith that our fixes will be long-term: “Americans are incapable of strategic mitigation — that is, solving the problem, versus fixing it over and over again,” he says.