NOVA's "Megastorm Aftermath" aired on October 9, 2013. This recent show is a follow-up from "Inside the Megastorm" re-aired on October 2, 2013.
This is a review of these two shows, available on internet at <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/inside-the-megastorm.html> or by DVD purchase.
Background of Hurricane Sandy: The landfall of megastorm Sandy in New York City on October 29, 2012 affected 51 square miles with utility outages, flooding debris, building damage, and fires. The death toll was 200 including 70 who lost their lives in the Carribean, and 70,000 homes and apartments were damaged.
NOVA's Inside the Megastorm takes a critical look at the catastrophe. It traces the creation of the 1000-mile wide hurricane and why it slammed into New York City (NYC). It explores the impact as recalled by victims and eyewitnesses. It investigates how New York harbor's geography and traditional infrastructure design thresholds contributed to flooding, building failures, and utility outages. Most importantly, it provides viewers a sense of how area residents and workers coped with the disaster by working together.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, regional leaders are planning for climate change--rising sea levels, more violent hurricanes, and higher storm surges. According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Stronger, More Resilient New York:
As New Yorkers, we cannot and will not abandon our waterfront. It is one of our greatest assets.
This video provides a valuable retrospective education aimed at educating the public. It explains possible causes of superstorms while focusing on American ingenuity during reconstruction. Because this one megastorm cost over 50 billion dollars worth of damage (more money than the federal government has invested in the National Infrastructure Bank), it lays bare critical prioritizations for oceanside engineering and ecological projects.
NOVA's Megastorm Aftermath begins with a review of the superstorm Sandy with its energy of five Hiroshima bombs. Was this a freak storm or a portent of more powerful violent storms amid rising oceans due to global warming? What, if anything, should cities, states, and nations do to prepare for more extreme weather events? How can agencies take the lead in guiding municipalities?
As Aftermath demonstrates, it's a complex question with a myriad of issues in anatomy, response, and prioritization. As the scientists see it, we are still at the cusp of accurate computer modeling, modeling which is itself the product of different theories about ice melt, sea level rise, and climate change.
The show details the effectiveness of immediate responses, such as Verizon converting New York City (NYC)'s landlines to water-proof fiber optics. The mission of waterproofing electrical equipment stored at subbasement level is also readily achieved by Con-Edison Power Company.
Beyond this, however, many questions creep up about the viability of repairs versus practicality of it. For instance, the practicality of rebuilding in a floodplain must be weighed against risks, costs, damage prevention, future retrofits, and ecological concerns, chief factors touched upon in Aftermath.
The crux of the debate from business owners to planners seems to center around funding and erecting hard (grey) versus soft (green) defense systems, or working out balanced humane workable ("resilient") compromises.
A model of one country which has survived over six centuries of habitual estuary inundation, viewers are taken on a Delta Works tour of the Netherlands, where today an extensive system of giant flood gates and storm surge barriers operate. This is in addition to their traditional internal systems of mechanical windmills, levees, canals, and detention/retention structures.
After Hurricane Sandy, NYC has dreamed up a hard defense system of gates, barriers, and seawalls at an estimated cost of 20 billion dollars. The idea is not only to keep out the water, but also to allow the water to channel itself out and through impervious urban zones, a concern expressed by Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) whose subways and tunnels flooded badly.
As climate scientists, mathematicians, meteorologists, and applied scientists struggle with predicting change and designing retrofits, agencies also have to modernize, whether it is with respect to building design codes, floodplain insurance maps, or reserving municipal land buy-outs.
However according to retired firefighter become ecologist Dan Mundy, who grew up in Jamaica Bay, there is no way to leave out ecological soft defense systems, whether because they create natural flood mitigation zones, support native habitat, or reduce pollution. While hard solutions can trap harmful algal blooms, soft solutions can restore clam and oyster beds.
According to J. Marshall Shepherd of University of Georgia:
As our sea level continues to rise, it won't take a Hurricane Andrew or Hurricane Katrina sized storm to create flooding hazards on our coastline.
Thus, another part of the debate which Aftermath tries to explore, but with limited success, is whether humans should retreat from the coastline altogether. Part of the problem is lack of data and a reliable timeline on sea level rise. Right now, it appear that commercial investments in coastal cities all around the world need protection, whether by soft or hard defenses.
One example of this is the ongoing marsh restoration projects in the Gulf, and at NYC's Rockaways. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) is partnering with ecological groups such as The Water Institute of the Gulf, and Broad Channel Civic Association. Said ACE Joseph Vietra:
It makes a lot of sense to put sand in the Rockaways right now, but I would not suggest to you that 30 years from now or 35 years from now that it might still make a lot of sense.
As Megastorm Aftermath centralizes the debate around why Hurricane Sandy happened and how to prepare for the next possibly even bigger hurricane by focusing on resilient immediate, short-range, and long-term regional plans, I like to contemplate architect Kate Orff of Columbia University's comment:
I think we've learned over the past 100 years that you cannot isolate these problems--that we live in an ecosystem where everything is interconnected.