Solutions for Self-Reliance

Why Sandy Is Scary in Simple Terms


The “destruction potential” for Sandy at 5.8 on a 0 to 6 scale.   NOAA’s hurricane research division

To figure out why Sandy has the professionals nervous, you need to know a little about how Hurricanes damage things.

Let me run you through it.

What makes a Hurricane dangerous?  

High winds and LOTs of water.  Of the two, the water does the most damage (although not the most exciting television).

Water does damage in two ways.  Through intense rainfall and through a coastal storm surge.

Of the two, the coastal storm surge does the most damage.  A coastal storm surge broke the levees and took out New Orleans.

What is a storm surge?  It’s how much higher the ocean’s water level is, due to the storm.

If you add in the extra height the ocean gains due to tidal action, you get what’s called “storm tide.”

There have been many storms more intense and with greater storm surges than Sandy.

The difference with Sandy is that it is:

  1. a MASSIVE storm (in contrast to more concentrated, more intense storms)
  2. going to damage some of the most valuable and highly populated real estate on the planet, the northeastern seaboard.

Here’s a graphic that show Sandy’s potential to generate a storm surge over six feet.  Note the intensity near and around New York City.

What’s going to happen to New York City?

All of the buried infrastructure, from electrical conduits to natural gas lines to subways, will be partially or completely flooded.  The damage could be intense.

Here’s an early picture of flooding in Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York.

What This Means 

Fortunately, no matter what the damage is to New York and the surrounding area, it will be rebuilt.  The US still has the political will and economic capacity to rebuild it.

When that fades away, as current trends suggest, damage from storms like Sandy to complicated, aging urban infrastructure (like we see in New York City) won’t be rebuilt.

It will be seen as too costly and too difficult to do.  We saw with the destruction of the sewer and water system in Port-au-Prince Haiti and with the glacial “recovery” in New Orleans.

Is there a way around this?


Resilient, locally sourced and managed infrastructure, at the city block or community level, is the answer.

As with all resilient systems, a decentralized infrastructure fails gracefully and has the capacity to recover quickly through local action.

So, even if the political and economic situation is terrible or fractured or bankrupt, life can get back to normal quickly.

Stay safe folks.

Resiliently Yours,




PS:  If you like this type of analysis and want more, join Resilient Strategies.   It’s a service that’s built to help you successfully navigate a complex and turbulent future (Sandy, Financial Crisis, etc.) .

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