Researchers Predict Growing Number of Hurricane Sandy-Like Storm Surges in Future

Chris Emery for the Office of Engineering Communications ・ Princeton Environmental Institute

In the wake of historic destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, residents of New York and other coastal cities were left wondering whether Sandy-scale storm floods are the new normal. 

Now, researchers from Princeton and Rutgers universities and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have developed a computer simulation that estimates that storm-related flooding on the New York City coastline similar in scale to those seen during Sandy are likely to become more common in coming decades. The worst-case scenario has the frequency increasing by 17 times by the year 2100, according to predictions published Oct. 10 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Beyond this particular prediction, the new model provides an important new tool that can predict, more accurately than previously possible, the kinds of storm floods that will threaten coastal cities over the next century. The new simulation promises to provide a picture of long-term coastal flood risk by accounting for both sea-level rise and varying storm activity due to climate change. Scientists call flooding associated with coastal storms “surge floods,” referring the rise of coastal water due to storm surge (produced by a storm’s pressure and wind forces) and sea-level rise.