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« SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Environmentalist Irving Like Has Died We Must Keep Going | Main | SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Thinking About A Hurricane On LI Think Storm Surge »

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Understand The Consequences Of Climate Change


By Karl Grossman

Long Islanders should be aware of the projections by Professor Scott A. Mandia of Suffolk County Community College of the consequences if a major hurricane hits Long Island.

“Given public complacency, the amount of people needing to evacuate, the few evacuation routes off Long Island, and the considerable area affected by storm surge, more lead-time is needed for a proper evacuation than in other parts of the country,” says Professor Mandia in a remarkable series of web pages. He is a meteorologist, a Miller Place resident, who teaches courses at the college on weather and climate change. 

The above is on a page where he discusses hurricane prospects for this region. Click on it at http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/hurricane_future.html

As he details on another of his web pages, which we spotlighted in this space last week, a Category 4 hurricane “inundates” with severe flooding “entire communities” on Long Island. He lists community after community. http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/storm_surge_maps.html  

Professor Mandia’s pages say the impacts from a major hurricane “point to a likely future disaster in Suffolk County.” 

The key factor causing loss of life and damage from a hurricane is storm surge. And if a Category 4 hurricane hits Long Island, the storm surge, he says, would be more than 20 feet and as high as 28 and 29 feet, in some areas of Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

The Army Corps of Engineers, in charge of protecting the coast of the U.S. from hurricanes, believes it can win against hurricanes. In 1962, when I started out as a Long Island-based journalist, the Army Corps was first pushing its Fire Island to Montauk Point Project, to bolster 83 miles of Suffolk’s south shore to, in large part, ostensibly withstand hurricanes. The scheme is still around as a $1.3 billion project. But the dunes reinforced in the project would rise, at their highest, to 15 feet—about half the height of the worst hurricane storm surge estimated for Long Island.

Until less than 100 years ago, folks on Long Island wouldn’t think of building houses on its barrier beaches. The most they’d put there would be “shacks”—with no expectation of them lasting a long time.

“Resiliency” is the word the Army Corps and politicians have been using since Sandy in 2012 as to what’s needed to protect Long Island. It’s a nice word, but the Army Corps’ Fire Island to Montauk Point scheme is billion buck wishful thinking. 

Complicating things today, as Professor Mandia notes on his web pages: “Unfortunately, in the past decades, the coastal population has also increased substantially which further increases the hurricane risks.”

And then there is the federally-subsidized flood insurance program that “almost rewards people for building in dumb locations,” said Professor Mandia in an interview.   

The gargantuan elephant in the hurricane room now is climate change. Professor Mandia says climate change, global warming, is responsible for the increased severity of major hurricanes. He explains: “All coastal storms are now worse due to sea level rise caused by human activities that are warming the climate. A warmer climate means more ice melt, which adds water to our oceans. Warmer water expands and thus rises upward, a double-whammy for sea level rise. Imagine a basketball hoop ten feet above the floor and consider a dunk to be a storm over-topping a sea wall or other barrier. Now imagine humans have caused that floor to rise by a foot. It is much easier to dunk a basketball now. More flooding just like we saw in Sandy, Harvey, Maria, Florence and every hurricane from now onward.”

Climate change is caused by the use of fossil fuels. Al Gore, who first took on climate change as a U.S. senator and continued as vice president and now a citizen-activist, said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek last month: “We’re still treating the atmosphere as an open sewer. We’re putting 110 million tons every day of man-made, heat-trapping pollution into the sky….That’s why the oceans are getting so hot. That’s why Hurricane Florence intensified so rapidly. That’s why there are fish from the ocean swimming in the streets of Miami at high tide—because of the melting ice and sea level rise.”

“The scientists were spot on in warning us about all of those consequences,” said Mr. Gore. “Now the evening news every night is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations…This is a really critical choice that we have to make. We must change. The second question: Can we change? We have the ability and the technologies to do it.”

We must eliminate the cause of increasingly severe hurricanes by ending reliance on fossil fuel and moving to green, clean, non-polluting sustainable energy led by solar and wind power.  As Mr. Gore says, “We have the ability and the technologies to do it.”


Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

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