SUPERSTORM SANDY: 10 YEARS ONWhat We Know About Giant Storms Since Sandy

Published 20 October 2022

“A central story of my book about Sandy [Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future] was that New York City’s emergency management actually did quite well. This was in large part due to planning efforts going back decades that focused on a possible Sandy-like event. That saved many lives. The exception was recommendations to flood-proof infrastructure, which ended up being almost entirely ignored,” says Adam Sobel of Columbia University.

Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October 2012, killing more than 40 people and causing $19 billion in damage. Columbia University researchers played key scientific and policy roles related to the city’s preparation for and response to the storm. In this Q&A series 10 years later, we asked several who occupied important public positions to look back, and forward.

Meteorologist and climatologist Adam Sobel heads Columbia University’s Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate. When Sandy hit, he became a sought-after commentator in news reports and documentaries about the storm and its implications, and later, on climate change in general. The author of Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future, he has contributed pieces on climate science and politics to The New York Times, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and other media. He is a professor at Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Columbia Engineering School.

When did scientists such as yourself start thinking about the link between climate change and extreme weather?
The idea that climate change would influence extreme weather has been around a long time; it certainly predates my career, which began in the early 1990s. I myself began thinking about it seriously in the mid-2000s. At that time, I and colleagues were working on the relationship of tropical cyclones to natural climate variations like El Niño. After 2005, when Katrina and so many other catastrophic storms happened, we started thinking seriously about that link. So did many others, around the same time.

Did you make any forecasts regarding Sandy?
I don’t make my own weather forecasts. First of all, I’m not great at it, compared to the pros who do it full time. More importantly, during extreme events, it’s important that there be a clear line of authority and responsibility, so that the public doesn’t get conflicting messages. The National Weather Service makes a forecast, and its local offices or private companies may customize it. But I can interpret and explain the forecast. For instance, I can tell a nuanced story about the uncertainties. The official forecasts provide some information about that, but not always as much as they could, perhaps because they are afraid of confusing people.