In just one a few hours Wednesday night, between 6 and 10 inches of rain fell in New York City, more than it fell in San Jose, Calif., in the past year. The water rose in the basement apartments and seeped through the roofs. Rain poured into metro stations and accumulated on the tracks. The remains of Hurricane Ida, which had beat the gulf coast earlier in the week, brought flooding to the northeast. Across the region, the death toll reached 40 on Thursday evening. The delays and suspensions of the metro continue.
The city’s infrastructure, you see, was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to withstand the kind of storm that occurs every five to ten years. Today, brutal and record-breaking storms occur every year. What was left of Ida turned the commute scene into a disturbing reminder that climate change comes for all of us. Forest fire storm clouds in the West, power outages in texas, hurricanes in the south, torrential rains in the east: “That’s all we said would happen 20 years ago,” says Zeke Hausfather, climatologist and director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute. “It’s just a little crazy to see all of this happening at the same time.”
The storm flooded the roads. But it has also flooded the alternatives to get people out of their cars: bike lanes, sidewalks and public transportation systems. For a while in New York on Thursday, it was all underwater. Images of water pouring into metro stations brought the crisis home. “You don’t have to be a person with a great understanding of infrastructure to know this is a problem,” says Michael Horodniceanu, former chairman of the Capital Construction Company of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and now chairman of the Institute of Construction Innovations at NYU. “We’re starting to see the results of what is, in my opinion, some lax attention to what our infrastructure does.”
New York had its first climate-related awakening nine years ago, when Hurricane Sandy caused a storm surge that flooded the low areas and, yes, the metro stations. Since then, the city has spent nearly $ 20 million to protect the city from the climate, according to the mayor’s office of resilience. But some of that funding was used to solve a different problem than the one presented by Ida: water from rivers. This week, all of the wet material fell from the sky, threatening even areas above sea level.
Ida’s remains dumped all that water in the northeast due to a climatic oddity. You might expect less precipitation on a warming planet, but parts of the world, including the northeast and midwestern United States, are experiencing a to augment in case of heavy rainfall. Temperature directly affects how much moisture the atmosphere can “hold” before it starts to rain, Hausfather explains. Cooler air retains less moisture and warmer air retains more moisture which then falls as rain.
Hurricane feeds on heat: Ida intensified so quickly because unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico boosted her just before touchdown, resulting in winds of 150 miles per hour. As a swirling mass of warm air, Ida retained a lot of moisture. So even though the winds calmed down as they pushed inland, the storm carried an incredible amount of moisture northward, flooding the states along the way.
Climate change did not create Hurricane Ida, but scientists know how climate change makes hurricanes like Ida worse. “It’s one of the most fundamental physical relationships we have in the climate: for every degree [Celsius] you warm the atmosphere, you get about 7% more humidity in the air, which means you can have much more precipitation, ”says Hausfather. “Hurricanes have become wetter over the past few decades, and this is expected to continue into the future. Scientists have also shown that hurricanes have intensified more rapidly in recent years, as did Ida, due to warming waters in the Gulf.
No one could have predicted this when the New York City bones were reconstructed over 100 years ago. When engineers imagine a sewage system, they imagine the worst storm the system could drain, a storm that may only occur once every 10 or 20 years. New York is designed for a storm every five years. Scientists have yet to identify the monster that just flooded the city, but it was certainly not one in five. The metric would rather be centuries.