Numbers, Pictures, Climate Change: Stories From Sandy

By Veronique Greenwood | October 31, 2012 1:06 pm

Here in New York City, and all along the US’s eastern seaboard, we had an epic Monday night. Here are photos and videos from the trenches and links to our picks of science reporting answering your questions about superstorm Sandy.

(1) A monster storm surge submerged Lower Manhattan, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and just about anywhere else within 9 feet of sea level.

spacing is important
Courtesy of That Hartford Guy / flickr

Ars Technica‘s Casey Johnston looks into new research and reports that by 2200, 9 feet above current sea level will be the new normal, thanks to climate change.

(2) What I thought was a lightning storm turned out to be a  transformer blowing.

Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing explains how transformers work and links to an explainer on why transformers explode at Popular Mechanics.

(3) Con Edison cut power to part of Manhattan to ease the pain of getting the equipment back online after the flood receded.

spacing is important
Courtesy of TenSafeFrogs / flickr

Before the storm hit, over at TIME, Bryan Walsh explained how the storm would test our electric grid, which is, to say the least, cobbled together. After the storm, Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOm laid out the case for a cleaner, more distributed power grid.

(4) In Chelsea, the facade of a four-story building crumbled:

I asked around on Twitter and learned that high winds and/or old or shoddily-laid brick can sometimes cause this. WIN.

(5) At NYU Langonne hospital, after the power failed, so did the back-up generators.


See ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein’s Storify of the chain of events and how this is not the first time this has happened here.

NY Governor Cuomo later said in a press conference that the generators were in the basement. Which, of course, was flooded.

(6) At the height of the storm, Popular Science‘s Martha Harbison made a break for Brooklyn’s Newtown Creek to see what she could see. She does not recommend trying this. But you can read what it was like here.

(7) The wind brought down trees, trees, trees…

Popular Science editors put together an extensive gallery of fallen trees here.

(8) Now that the storm is passed, the recovery here and elsewhere has begun. It will have to take into account what New York Governor Cuomo referred to as a new, extreme weather reality.


Quartz news reporter Chris Mims thoughtfully addressed how climate change fed into Sandy here. And Maggie Koerth-Baker put together a set of links and info here to address why what you mean when you ask “Did climate change cause Sandy?” matters:

If you’re just kind of curious and/or looking for something to blame, we don’t have great answers on that yet. I’m sorry. Nobody is really going to be able to tell you one way or the other.

But if you’re using that question as a proxy to really ask, “Is climate change real and do I have to care about it?”, well, good news! We have enough information to answer your question. And the answer is, emphatically, yes.

For my part, the one article that kept coming to mind was this one from National Geographic last year. We might someday start adding the natty wood structures used by these people to our front yards.

Food for thought.

  • DanielGreensburg

    We’re only talking about a Cat 1 storm system…we’ve had numerous storms that have been far stronger (Cat 3’s and higher) out in the Atlantic which never make landfall (as we do every single year). The killer with Sandy was the track of the storm running along the east coast, meandering on and offshore, and merging with two other cold-air systems…not wind or any other features one would see with a stronger storm…the track is the reason why so much damage was caused. To assume that climate change is responsible for the track Sandy took is an absolutely absurd claim. Put a Cat 2-5 storm in the same path this storm took, merge it with two other cold-air systems, and Sandy looks like a walk in the park.

    Aside from that…climate takes place over the course of decades…weather is day to day. Unless Sandy has been churning up in the Atlantic for the past few decades, climate change has nothing to do with this storm. We have had Category 1 storms for hundreds of thousands of years…what we’ve never had was overpopulation in severely hurricane-prone areas like this before. …And I am just assuming we are talking about human-induced climate change, since the Earth’s climates are constantly changing naturally.

    • Veronique Greenwood

      Daniel, I’m not sure if you read the post before commenting.

      If you read it, you’ll that there is no mention of climate change causing Sandy. In fact, the post says specifically that there is no way to make that kind of claim.

      Sandy is merely consistent with the changes scientists expect if seas are warming, etc. Thus, it is in line with what we would expect with climate change.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Chuck Currie

    I’m perplexed at why everyone is so perplexed by rising sea levels – the Dutch figured out the solution centuries ago. And, they’ve never put a man on the moon.

    Also, I agree completely with Daniel.


  • marcel

    I don’t think this is quite right (but I only play a climatologist in TV): I heard that because of arctic melting, and the resulting lower ocean salinity off southern Greenland, hurricanes are (more often) blocked from going NE up the coast and instead are (more often) forced west, inland, a la Sandy. If anyone with knowledge can present some useful information, that would be useful.

  • Jerry Chase

    While Sandy is a real story, the human reaction and non-reaction is perhaps an even larger and sadder story. There was roughly a week of advance notice that this storm was going to be serious, with such noted weathercasters as Bryan Norcross weighing in. Having followed his superb reporting during Andrew and other storms such as Katrina, I was dumbfounded to again find that people simply do not learn until they are FORCED into learning firsthand by pain.

    I remember personally seeing unprepared people lined up for bottled water the DAY after hurricane Wilma in Florida. It was broadcast on national news, so millions of others got to see that as well. I remember the long gas lines I saw while riding around on my bicycle after the storm. I remember the state of Florida requiring gas stations to have some sort of backup power after that debacle.

    Even after the experience of major storms and knowledge derived from them, many in the areas affected by Sandy repeated those same mistakes, although the effort required to fill their gas tank BEFORE a storm was minimal, and keeping a few cans of food and bottles of water has never been rocket science.

    I am so sorry that people have to go though such suffering, but I just cannot understand why so many who could so easily have avoided problems did nothing to prepare. There is an article on human nature to be written there.

    In the meantime, WHEN will ephemeral construction on the shifting sands of barrier islands be banned, and the land turned back to nature or much needed parkland? And when will disaster preparedness be taught in schools as a required course?

  • David H

    Ms. Greenwood,
    You say that “there is no mention of climate change causing Sandy”, yet the post states “if you’re using that question [Did climate change cause Sandy?]as a proxy to really ask, “Is climate change real and do I have to care about it?” well, good news! We have enough information to answer your question. And the answer is, emphatically, yes.” You also let your readers know that “Quartz news reporter Chris Mims thoughtfully addressed how climate change fed into Sandy” and provide a link to the article. (An article thoughtfully titled “How Global Warming Helped Transform Sandy from a Hurricane into a Frankenstorm”.)
    If there is no evidence of climate change causing Sandy, then what was the point of even mentioning climate change in the post? The only reason is to link this storm to climate change in the readers’ minds. If there is no causal relationship, and you really want to say that, it should be spelled out clearly. Something like, “Some people may wonder if Sandy was caused by climate change, and the answer is: no one knows; this is only one storm.” That would be clear. Including a passage like “Is climate change real…the answer is, emphatically, yes” in a post that supposedly does not link the storm and climate change appears to be making a link on the sly. You can defend the article by saying that, technically, it never actually said the two were linked, but putting the two in the same article does link them for the reader.
    If you are going to include items in a post about the storm that are not related to it, why stop at climate change? Why not address other things that didn’t cause the storm? How about a link to an article about acid rain or mercury in sea water or undersea earthquakes? None of those things caused the storm either. What is the purpose of making links to articles about climate change, including one that specifically links the storm and climate change, if, as you say, “the post says specifically that there is no way to make that kind of claim [to link climate change and Sandy]”?

  • Patrick W

    David H —
    I think you are arguing semantics, and Ms. Greenwood was quite clear. Your last paragraph “… mercury in sea water…” is just nonsense trying to de-legitimize a real phenomenon. Obviously the severity and frequency of destructive weather phenomena has been increasing recently. Whether this is caused by man or due to some other reason can be argued, but you can’t bury your head in the sand and pretend that our weather, especially in North America is not changing.
    Danial Greensburg —
    The track of a storm is just as much a part of the storm system as its strength. It is unusual for hurricanes to be hitting land this far north, which provides the opportunity for the storm to be compounded by the effect of combining with a cold northern front. I see no inconsistency in assuming that the track of a storm can be influenced by climate change, any more than the existence and strength of the storm itself.

  • Jean Molénat

    just a suggestion. It might be interesting to congratulate big coal, big oil and big gas corporations because their Super Storm Sandy has been a Super Strong Success. Jean Molénat.

  • Suk Ording

    I live in S. Ca and have been prepared for the Big One for many years. I asked neighbors if they had stored food and water and all of them said they could last two to three days. I don’t mention that I have 25 five gallon water bottles and stored food enough to last me at least two years or more. I tell these neighbors to look at what others are going through and still none of these people prepare for what very well could be the next big disaster in the U.S. of A. Our drought of this past summer was manmade. You all can see that for yourself by looking up into the sky above your own city and seeing jets spraying chemtrails and those change weather patterns. Nov. 1st there must of been a few hundred of these streaks over S. CA and none the day before and none today. It is so right in your face now that you can’t say the government isn’t causing these terrible weather disasters. They have their hands bloodied and will have more on their hands when this kind of disaster goes global.

  • john malone

    great photos — and thanks for subscribing to my blog


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