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Climate Change and its Effects on Storms in New York City by Barnard Blogger Isabella Mungioli

New York City’s location on the water has defined its existence and has led to its prominence from its very start. The island of Manhattan, surrounded by varying waterways, has worked in its favor to create a transportation, commercial, and social hub connected by the water. But now, as the effects of climate change are becoming more and more severe, New York City’s seaside location is on route to foster more harm than good. One study estimates that the rising sea levels associated with climate change will make every tropical cyclone that hits New York City even more likely to cause damaging floods. Recently, with intense flooding, Hurricane Sandy killed 43 people in New York City, as well as many more in the outlying suburban areas. More than the death toll, Hurricane Sandy severely affected housing supply for many families, destroyed much infrastructure of the city, as well as varying other complications. Hurricane Sandy is not an outlier – The  U.S. Climate Science Special Report reports that there has been an observed upward trend in North Atlantic hurricane activity since the 1970s. They attribute this to climate change and the subsequent increasing temperatures leading to warmer water vapor, which then leads to intensified storms and hurricanes, such as Sandy.

A major consequence of increased hurricanes that hit New York City is their major effects on health systems throughout the city. During the storm as well as during the times after Hurricane Sandy, it has been cited that even major hospitals experienced problems with maintaining a power supply for critical devices used to assist patients, as well as fuel supplies to keep the hospital running overall. Doctors, nurses, support staff, and others took extreme measures to keep patients alive, such as using buckets to transport fuel to generators. So, given this, the question then becomes: what will New York City do in the future to prepare health systems for future disasters? In the realm of public health, this is especially critical given the anticipated increase in frequency of major storms due to climate change. Climate change is changing the very nature of life in New York City, notably and amongst others, the way in which health care is provided and maintained. However, public health is simply one aspect of the effects of increased storms in New York City due to climate change. Preventative measures that anticipate the effects of a warming planet and subsequent storms must be taken to alter the infrastructure and built environment of the city. Specifically, New York City is preparing for “The Next Superstorm Sandy” by building more emergency shelters, repairing public housing infrastructure to make it more storm resistant, and is taking measures towards storm surge protections along the waterfront. Climate change is most certainly already affecting New York City. If trends keep heading in the direction that they are heading, then the consequences will continue to become more severe and the effects will expand in their reach.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for the read, Isabella! I appreciate that you came at this topic from a public health perspective. I’m curious about the responses that healthcare providers have begun to put in place in the event of future extreme weather events. Do you have examples of the ways that climate change has altered how healthcare is “provided and maintained”? Are there opportunities for vulnerable populations (i.e., low income, folks over 65, children, women, etc.) to access services during storms that were unavailable before?

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