Prognostication about Sandy

There are lots of predictions about what impact Sandy could have on the East Coast of the US including the City of New York.  Only time will tell if these prognostications are completely off target or close.  Clearly, we need to anticipate and to some extent prepare for the worst, in order to protect lives and property, but at the same time it is very difficult to predict the final result of these storms even less than 48 hours before they impact.  Even then can the link be made back to climate change…As always it is difficult to make a link about one extreme weather event to climate change…We need to be looking at the longer term trends and people are most certainly doing that.  Here is an excerpt from wunderground ( on the impact that Sandy could have on the NY subway systems.

Sandy’s storm surge may flood New York City’s subway system, costing billions
Sandy is expected to have tropical storm-force winds that extend out more than 400 miles from the center, which will drive a much larger storm surge than its peak winds would ordinarily suggest. The full moon is on Monday, which means astronomical tides will be about 5% higher than typical, increasing the potential for damaging storm surge flooding. Fortunately, Sandy is now predicted to make a fairly rapid approach to the coast, meaning that the storm surge will not affect the coast for multiple high tide cycles. If Sandy hits near New York City, as the GFS model predicts, the storm surge will be capable of overtopping the flood walls in Manhattan, which are only five feet above mean sea level. On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene brought a storm surge of 4.13′ to Battery Park on the south side of Manhattan. The waters poured over the flood walls into Lower Manhattan, but came 8 – 12″ shy of being able to flood the New York City subway system. However, the town of Lindenhurst (population 28,000), on the south side of Long Island, was mostly under water due to the storm surge, and fresh water run-off from Irene’s torrential rains, riding on top of a 3 to 4-foot storm surge, allowed the swollen East and Hudson Rivers to overflow at the edges of Manhattan. New York was not as lucky on December 12, 1992, when a 990 mb Nor’easter drove an 8-foot storm surge into Battery Park, flooding the NYC subway and the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH) train systems in Hoboken New Jersey. FDR Drive in lower Manhattan was flooded with 4 feet of water, which stranded more than 50 cars and required scuba divers to rescue some of the drivers. Mass transit between New Jersey and New York was down for ten days, and the storm did hundreds of millions in damage to the city. The highest water level recorded at the Battery in the past century came in September 1960 during Hurricane Donna, which brought a storm surge of 8.36 feet to the Battery and flooded lower Manhattan to West and Cortland Streets. According to the latest storm surge forecast for NYC from the experimental Extratropical Storm Surge model, run by NOAA”s Meteorological Development Laboratory, Sandy’s storm surge may be higher than Irene’s, and has the potential to flood New York City’s subway system (Figure 4.) The amount of water will depend critically upon whether or not the peak storm surge arrives at high tide or not. If the peak surge arrives near Monday evening’s high tide near 9 pm EDT, a portion of New York City’s subway system could flood, resulting in billions of dollars in damage. I give a 30% chance that Sandy’s storm surge will end up flooding a portion of the New York City subway system.

An excellent September 2012 article in the New York Times titled, “New York Is Lagging as Seas and Risks Rise, Critics Warn” quoted Dr. Klaus H. Jacob, a research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, on how lucky New York City got with Hurricane Irene. If the storm surge from Irene had been just one foot higher, “subway tunnels would have flooded, segments of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and roads along the Hudson River would have turned into rivers, and sections of the commuter rail system would have been impassable or bereft of power,” he said, and the subway tunnels under the Harlem and East Rivers would have been unusable for nearly a month, or longer, at an economic loss of about $55 billion. Dr. Jacob is an adviser to the city on climate change, and an author of the 2011 state study that laid out the flooding prospects. “We’ve been extremely lucky,” he said. “I’m disappointed that the political process hasn’t recognized that we’re playing Russian roulette.” A substantial portion of New York City’s electrical system is underground in flood-prone areas. Consolidated Edison, the utility that supplies electricity to most of the city, estimates that adaptations like installing submersible switches and moving high-voltage transformers above ground level would cost at least $250 million. Lacking the means, it is making gradual adjustments, with about $24 million spent in flood zones since 2007. At a conference I attended this summer in Hoboken on natural hazards on urban coasts, I talked to an official with Consolidated Edison, who was responsible for turning off Lower Manhattan’s power if a storm surge floods the subway system. He said that he was ready to throw the switch during Irene, but was glad it turned out not to be needed.


Finally some evidence that insurance companies are starting to increase costs and/or withhold coverage in areas that are more at risks from the impacts of climate change including State Farm and Allstate. I also like the potential business opportunity here that is available for people who think climate change is a hoax!

Costs of Climate Change in the North

Some areas which are reporting increased climate change costs include the  Department of Transportation of the Government of the Northwest Territories. In response to a question in the House, the government has identified 4 areas of increased costs associated with climate change including these potential areas;

  • Increased glycol use at airports for de-icing
  • development and purchase of ice spray technology for use on ferries
  • settlement of the Dempster Highway due to permafrost
  • increased road and gravel applications to highways
  • delayed opening of winter roads
  • extra frost and ice removal at the airport
  • purchase of ice penetrating radar to estimate ice thickness
  • increased highway maintenance costs
  • the need for climate change assessment and studies
  • Construction of test strips on highways
  • plus others

The government does state that it is difficult in some cases to attribute increased cost directly to climate change as some of these increased costs are about preparing and adapting and planning for climate change.  There are some interesting issues to pursue here in the future including the best practices for building in the north and the vulnerability assessment done of the airport.

Should homeowners face less premiums if they waterproof or climateproof?

Lots of action right now on insurance companies and disasters and costs with reports out from Munich Re and Swiss Re – it must be the time when lots of stats from the season just passed are reported.  Canadian underwriter has also just published a blog post at where they push for the fact that if homeowners take efforts and spend money to water proof their homes that they should get a break on their insurance.

From this post as well there is a point made that the City of Toronto is paying about $14,000 per home to upgrade infrastructure in about 100 neighborhoods.  A municipal risk assessment tool has also been developed to help municipalities assess ( infrastructure at risk. The question is would you expect the same allowance for climate impacts if a consumer was making their home more climate friendly – of course that is more complicated – how does a consumer make their home more climate friendly – does putting on solar panels count, what about more energy-efficient, passive solar design etc…lots of those the individual insurance company may not care about, but if you build your house to withstand the tornado or local flooding, then the logic of this article would apply.

Normalizing impacts from natural disasters

Some interesting blog posts from thinkprogress and legal planet on the many factors and issues around determining if climate change is contributing to increased damages from natural disasters. Think progress summarizes a recent Munich Re report which was just released, which I cannot find as of yet.

The legal planet blog raises some interesting points, mostly showing some data where the deaths from natural disasters, all disasters actually decreases as the country becomes wealthier.  The thinkprogress reports also discusses some of the issues and difficulties in normalizing for increased urbanization and other effects.  There are arguments that better weather forecasts, better building standards and better communication to warn people are difficult to normalize and makes it much more difficult to understand if climate change is increasing the amount of damage from climate change impacts.

As the future unfolds, additional actions will be taken as adaptation which will also be difficult to normalize when comparing past damage events to future ones.

Changing Profile of Corporate Climate Change Risk – Summary – Part 1

Mark Trexler and Laura Kosloff have issued a short book (on a website called DoShorts) entitled “The Changing Profile of Corporate Climate Change Risk” which discusses many of the topics that i want to explore on this website.

They portray very nicely the dynamic between how climate risk was understood as primarily a policy risk in the recent past and how this risk is shifting to more of a real business risk which could impact the functioning of the business including the supply chain.  As greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase and policies are not being successfully implemented the risks of climate change impacts increase and the policy risks become somewhat muted.

They summarize climate change as translating into business risks in the following ways;

“- Physical risk, including direct impacts of climate change on a company’s operations, supply chains, and financial performance;

– Brand risk, including the impact of consumer and stakeholder perceptions on corporate competitiveness;

– Policy risk, including the impacts of climate change policy and regulatory mandates on a company’s operations, supply chains,and competitive advantage;

– Structural risk, including the impacts of climate change-influenced market forces on the supply of and demand for a company’s products and services; and

– Liability risk, including litigation or legislation that could assign corporate liability for GHG emissions, potentially retroactively.”.

This provides a good framework to proceed and analyse some businesses and develop scenarios where the risks of climate change can be explored. These scenarios particularly when looking at local impacts need to explore both positive and negative impacts of climate change and these impacts on particular business and business models.

“Urgent need to communicate the dangers of climate change”


A quote from notes from a joint statement from the Government of Japan and the World Bank, released during the Sendai Dialogue, part of the 2012 World Bank Group/International Monetary Fund (IMF) Annual Meetings from Oct. 9 and 10 states the following:

There is an urgent need to communicate the dangers of climate change in light of the rapidly changing environment and some “frightening” data, Kim said at a press conference in Tokyo on Oct 11.

Responding to a question, he noted that since becoming head of the World Bank he has looked into the data on climate change and has been surprised to find that, even in the last six months to a year, “the data on climate change has become ever more frightening. Things that we thought would happen only with higher degree change in the average temperature are happening now. And as a scientist, I feel that it is my moral responsibility to be very clear in communicating the dangers of climate change.”



Do environmental issues impact human health?

The center for Health and the Global Environment (  is based out of the The Harvard Medical School and has a significant work on climate change, infectious disease and human health.  This has included looking at the full lifecycle costs of coal as well as exploring linkages between infectious disease and climate change lead by some of the thinking of Dr. Paul Epstein.

Many of the links are as a result of warmer temperatures which increase the favourable factors for these diseases to grow and flourish in water bodies or because the temperatures do not cool as much and some of the vectors like mosquitoes survive and spread the disease. In addition climate change may increase the range of some of these diseases north and south because of these warmer temperatures as well as up in altitude.

Here is one article and another one

Much of the discussion in the past about environmental issues has been about the natural world and biodiversity and not realizing that there are also impacts on human health, the economy and our society.  The center for Health and Global Environment was started to explore that question.

Two other reports which Paul Epstein was also involved in include assessing risks for investors and insurers from climate change.  Updates on those to come later.

Some thinking on risk assessment of catastrophes in the Pacific region. While not having read the report, this report does not solely deal with the risk from climate change influenced catastrophe’s. Some inititaves being taken by the government of Papua New Guinea to prepare for this including climate resilience and low carbon growth. Good points about the need to align all strategies and plans with the overriding concern of climate change.

Emnaupng's Blog

There was a little news article in The National Newspaper from the 20th Sept., 2012, which I thought was the most important news article of the day. However, that was all it was – a small article on page 7.

The Deputy Prime Minister,  Hon. Leon Dion was briefed on the findings by a report on the Risk Assessment of Catastrophes in the Pacific. The reported states that, in the next 50 years, PNG is expected to incur loss exceeding US$700 million with casualties over 5,000 from natural disasters.

In PNG, we expect disasters and losses, however, we never monetize the costs of disasters. When we do, as was done in that report, and compare with the money we have, we begin to realize how unprepared we really are to future natural disasters. The disasters, when compounded with the unpredictable impacts of climate change – the cost as well…

View original post 579 more words

More on increased risk of wild fires

While arguably not the greatest risk there has been some additional recent thinking and proposed solutions on how to address the risk of wildfires.

First an article by the LA times on the amount of wild fire burnt in the US and the frequency and causes…

Over the summer and on into the fall, images of flames, smoke plumes, firefighting teams and ruined homes have been on replay, and with good reason: As of Aug. 31, this year tied the record for total acreage burned by wildfires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. More than 8.4 million acres have burned to date — an area larger than the state of Maryland up in flames.

On average, there are now more than 100 “large” fires (fires that consume at least 1,000 acres) each year on Forest Service land. In the 1970s there were fewer than 50. Compared with an average year in the 1970s, each year during the last decade saw seven times more fires that burned more than 10,000 acres, and five times more fires larger than 25,000 acres.

Many factors help drive wildfires, including land-use practices such as logging and fire suppression, day-to-day weather variability and insect and pest infestations. And humans remain the No. 1 reason fires ignite in the first place. But as temperatures have dramatically increased in the Western U.S., wildfires have gotten more frequent and more intense.

And temperatures in the West have climbed faster than in the rest of the country. In the Southwest and Rocky Mountain states, for example, average summer temperatures have risen by 1.6 degrees since 1970, according to our analysis. Scientists aren’t yet able to say how much climate change has influenced temperature change in the West, but the warming is consistent with changes across North America that have been linked to higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate models also show that in the coming decades, temperatures in the Western U.S. will probably keep rising.

The National Research Council recently reported that for every degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in temperature rise, the size of the area burned in the Western U.S. could quadruple. Consistent with the council’s findings and previous studies, our research shows that the years with more large fires typically had higher-than-average spring and summer temperatures.

To add to the increased fire risk and warmer temperatures…

In recent decades, spring has become longer and warmer, and the snowpack has melted one to four weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago across the West, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Higher temperatures and earlier snowmelt in turn can increase the volume of dry trees and brush available to ignite and burn, particularly at higher elevations. Not surprisingly, our analysis reveals a clear trend over the last 40 years where wildfires start earlier and burn later in the year, effectively stretching the “burn season” by 75 days, an additional 2 1/2 months of wildfires each year.

These trends are particularly startling for certain states. Since the 1970s, the average number of fires larger than 1,000 acres in a year has nearly quadrupled in Arizona and Idaho and has doubled in every other Western state, from the Rockies to the West Coast, except Washington.

This year, New Mexico endured the largest recorded wildfire in that state’s history. Colorado sustained more than half a billion dollars in 2012 wildfire-related damages . Eight firefighters have lost their lives this year trying to protect homes and the public lands that provide jobs and recreation for millions of Americans in the West.,0,3266044.story

To some extent, how we manage forests needs to be more of this discussion as well, since how we manage forests can increase the temperature and intensity of the fires.  Another blog  (  discusses potential ways of dealing with this increased fire risks and minimizing the economic and potential loss of life through zoning and the role of the insurance industry. Some of these ideas seem similar to the role that the insurance industry can play in flood plains, but is prevented from playing.  From my experience, the insurance sector is not allowed to fully price the risk of building in flood plains in to house and home insurance, partially because of the response of government responding to developer and voter pressure to allow building in these higher risk areas.  In the effect, the government is subsidizing the risk and then all taxpayers pay for this when governments pay out emergency disaster payments for flooded basements in flood plains!