Reflections on Sandy: Understanding What Happened & Where Do We Go From Here?
Mr. Szatkowski described the experience of Hurricane Sandy from the point of view of forecast meteorologists working in New Jersey area hit by the storm. His office in Mount Holly began issuing warnings forty hours before the storm and knew that coastal flooding was the biggest threat. They anticipated record breaking water heights and made a personal plea to people to be prepared by showing photographs of storm damage from the hurricane in 1902 that devastated the area. Sandy hit at high tide with a storm tide of 12-15 feet. Mr. Szatkowski said that the governors of New Jersey and Delaware issued the evacuation orders when they needed to and did a great job in the run up to the storm. The New Jersey governor ordered a mandatory evacuation, but the New York mayor did not. In extreme events, past experience fails to inform good decisions. For example, the New Jersey railway made the mistake of putting trains in an area that did not flood in past hurricanes, but this time lost 400 million dollars in equipment. Some people did not evacuate because they thought Hurricane Irene the year before was less intense than anticipated. In a study, researchers found that 76% of people said that they “experienced” a hurricane, but only 37% reported suffering damage from Hurricane Irene. Mr. Szatkowski observed if you did not experience damage or other problems, you did not really experience the hurricane. Climate change is also expected to make future severe weather events worse. The trend in sea level rise is acceleration, which will raise storm tide levels. It Is very difficult to confront this problem because it is long term and outside personal experience. Looking ahead– even though forecasting has gotten better and is expected to improve, it is difficult to get people to understand the impact of a hurricane.