Tag Archives: hurricane

The Cinch Review

Post-Sandy: Weather, perception and public policy

ViewThere’s a famous cartoon by Saul Steinberg, called “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” which was a cover for the New Yorker magazine in 1976. It shows 9th and 10th Avenues in Manhattan in detail with cars and people, and then the rest of the world receding in size and significance, with bare rocks designating esoteric places like Texas, Los Angeles and Nebraska, and China, Japan and Russia featured as gray shores beyond a Pacific Ocean which isn’t much bigger than the Hudson River. The concept has been imitated many times for other locales, and it’s amusing because it contains a truth about human nature: That which is going on closest to us seems most important, and we’re generally satisifed to have the vaguest notions about people and places farther away.

I believe that the same kind of distorted lens affects our perception of weather events. The storm that just occurred is so much worse than storms previously recorded in history (even if it’s not). There is a much greater number of storms and much more damaging weather these days in general than there ever has been before (even if there is not). And even the really, really smart people who are in charge of us seem to be susceptible to this “View of the World from New York on Halloween of 2012.” Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the other day that: “What is clear is that the storms we’ve experienced in the last year or so around this country and around the world are much more severe than before.” Governor Andrew Cuomo is quoted as saying: “There has been a series of extreme weather incidents … Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality.” Well, indeed, what’s reality? Is it our immediate and emotional perception in the wake of a particular weather disaster or historical facts and numbers taken from a long period of time? Roger Pielke (professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado) has pulled out some of the latter:

In studying hurricanes, we can make rough comparisons over time by adjusting past losses to account for inflation and the growth of coastal communities. If Sandy causes $20 billion in damage (in 2012 dollars), it would rank as the 17th most damaging hurricane or tropical storm (out of 242) to hit the U.S. since 1900 – a significant event, but not close to the top 10. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 tops the list (according to estimates by the catastrophe-insurance provider ICAT), as it would cause $180 billion in damage if it were to strike today. Hurricane Katrina ranks fourth at $85 billion.

To put things into even starker perspective, consider that from August 1954 through August 1955, the East Coast saw three different storms make landfall – Carol, Hazel and Diane – that in 2012 each would have caused about twice as much damage as Sandy.

While it’s hardly mentioned in the media, the U.S. is currently in an extended and intense hurricane “drought.” The last Category 3 or stronger storm to make landfall was Wilma in 2005. The more than seven years since then is the longest such span in over a century.

Another and broader point made by Pielke is one I will make in my own way: Since the beginning of time, the weather has been killing us. It’s been blowing us away, drowning us, and parching us. It’s destroyed our houses, wrecked our crops, and even forced us at times in large numbers to migrate. The occurrence of extreme weather events on a periodic basis is one of the most reliable features of the climate across much of planet earth. If such events stopped occurring, then that would be “climate change” indeed. Our tendency—all the more so in the modern age when we feel so relatively invincible—to want to live in places that are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, like right on the edge of huge bodies of water, only increases the potential for damage and loss. Continue reading Post-Sandy: Weather, perception and public policy

The Cinch Review

Sandy: aftermath of the tempest

Clearly this storm has been a disaster for many who badly need assistance and prayers. Here at Cinch HQ in NYC we can only be grateful not to have lost power or suffered any other significant damage. Were it not for seeing it on the news, we wouldn’t even know it had been such a damaging storm. Would that everyone could say the same thing.

In terms of New York City at large, it seems the damage to the subway system is the biggest single issue hanging over the recovery effort. Shutting down the system was meant to avoid serious flooding by salt water, but it occurred anyway, and that’s a very big deal which will impact service for quite some time and cost plenty to fix. Continue reading Sandy: aftermath of the tempest

The Cinch Review

The Tempest Approacheth: Hurricane Sandy looms over U.S. Northeast

They waited at the landing
And they tried to understand
But there is no understanding
For the judgement of God’s hand

So goes one of the final verses of Bob Dylan’s song, “Tempest,” released this past September 11th. It describes the sinking of the Titanic, but makes no mention of any iceberg. There is only the “tempest” cited in the title. It’s an unusually long song, and Hurricane Sandy is predicted to be one unusually long storm. Make of it what you will!

At this hour (10 a.m.) from my vantage point in the center of New York City, things are quite calm and very strange. Breezy, for sure, with some raindrops in the air but no torrents. What is very odd is knowing that, effectively, everyone is at home. You can almost never say that in New York, on any day, at any hour. This strange state of affairs is thanks to the complete shut down of public transportation. It is only the second time that’s ever been done in anticipation of inclement weather, the first time being August of 2011, when it was done for Hurricane Irene. That turned out to be an overreaction. This time, if the meteorologists are half-way correct, it will not be an overreaction.

In New York City, amidst the walls of skyscrapers, I think most of us tend to feel immune to the vagaries of weather. The worst blizzards imaginable can strike, but in a few hours as if by magic the streets are cleared and the sidewalks swept. If you use the subway or your legs to get around, you are barely inconvenienced by such events.

This could be different—indeed it’s already different by virtue of the subway shutdown—but still I think the deepest concern with regard to this storm is for people in other locales, places where they are almost certain to lose power, perhaps for many days. With the power lines underground in Manhattan, I’m not sure what disastrous sequence of events would have to take place to cut off power here.

In any case, I will continue checking in here as whim and circumstance dictate.

Now I’m going to take the dog for a walk.

One more verse from “Tempest” by Bob Dylan:

Smokestack was leaning sideways
Heavy feet began to pound
He walked into the whirlwind
Sky splitting all around

Addendum 11 a.m.: In truth, a quick walk around the neighborhood shows that about 50% of businesses are open, and there are plenty of people out and about, searching for the storm. I guess eventually it will probably find us.

The Cinch Review

Central Park is closed?

Central Park is closed?
Well, not exactly. With gusty winds this afternoon, the city decided to “close” Central Park, due to the risk of falling branches. Two people have been killed by falling branches there in the past couple of years, so it’s by no means a theoretical problem. Still, closing the park today seems driven by a pronounced fear of litigation, the same fear which drives a lot of ultra-cautious decisions. In any case, it’s pretty difficult to close Central Park in practice, given its size and the enormous number of entry points. And it was pretty hard for New Yorkers (and their dogs) to resist the cool afternoon breezes today, and the desire to get out for a long walk after being cooped up by rain. Continue reading Central Park is closed?