October 30, 2013 6:21 pm

Revisiting Storms of Our Century a Year After Sandy


Satellite image of Superstorm Sandy Making Landfall, NASA

As Hurricane Sandy made a historic landfall on the New Jersey coast during the night of Oct. 29, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on NASA/NOAA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite captured this night-time view of the storm. This image provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison is a composite of several satellite passes over North America taken 16 to 18 hours before Sandy’s landfall.

One year ago this morning, here in the Northeast we woke up to the devastation that Sandy left in its wake. Most of the StarTalk team live in and around NYC, in lower Manhattan, out on Long Island, or here in NJ where I live. We woke up without power, without water, without heat, and, for some of our neighbors, without our homes.

In the aftermath of Sandy, many of us felt powerless and vulnerable, with many questions to be answered. Could this happen again? Did global warming cause Sandy, or was it just the luck of the draw that had high tide hit at the peak of the massive, hurricane driven storm surge during the highest tides of the month? Was this the start of a new normal?

The best weapons against fear and uncertainty we have are science and knowledge. (They’re pretty darn useful for actually solving problems, too.) Understanding how hurricanes form, and where the real dangers lie, goes a long way to combatting blind fear every time the news reports there’s a new storm on the way.

I think that’s why StarTalk Live: Storms of Our Century Part 1 and Part 2 were such important episodes for me, personally. If you haven’t listened to these episodes before, and you’re at all concerned about severe weather like hurricanes and tornadoes, then I recommend that you listen to them.

Because, you see, it turns out we know an incredible amount about storms. One of the guests at this StarTalk Live was Dr. Adam Sobel, a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University who is affiliated with the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Listening to him talk about how far climate science and predicting have come was incredibly reassuring… and exactly when we needed it.

That’s because this StarTalk Live actually took place the night before Winter Storm Nemo, aka The Blizzard of 2013, hit the Northeast. Adam explained how the upcoming winter storm was different from Sandy. He explained what causes severe weather, and what the real dangers from these storms are. And he explained why Sandy was so devastating, and why Nemo would be different.

Talk about timely. I left the Bell House in Brooklyn as the snow was beginning to fall, and got home before the serious weather hit. One of our StarTalk Team members wasn’t so lucky, and spent six or seven hours trying to get home to Long Island on the LIE.

Where I live in NJ was spared most of the impact from Nemo. It wasn’t that way with Sandy. Our car was destroyed, we lost a refrigerator’s worth of food, and were without power for over a week.

In retrospect, though, we were lucky. Yesterday, the media was filled with stories of Sandy, and of people who are still suffering from its wrath. People who are still without their homes, their neighborhoods, their jobs, and in some cases, more than that. But there were also reports about how communities have learned from Sandy and are preparing for the next storms, how New York is developing new protective measures against storm surge. There is still much to be done, but hopefully we won’t get caught with our pants down if it happens again.

As I said, the best weapon we have against fear and the unknown is knowledge.

On a slightly different but related note, we have another StarTalk Live coming up this Monday. It’s going to be at Town Hall in New York City. I don’t know what the topic is going to be yet, or even who the guests are, but the whole StarTalk Team is getting pretty excited. By the way, there are still a few seats left. You can buy tickets here, if you hurry.

If you are you going, we’re doing something that we’ve never done before. One lucky fan is going to get to ask Neil deGrasse Tyson a question from the audience and then meet him backstage after the show. Our producers will be choosing that fan in advance from among questions submitted on our blog. You can get details here, including where to post your questions.

As of right now, 75 people have submitted questions, so the odds are pretty good if you’re interested in coming backstage after the show and meeting Neil, and who knows who else.

If you don’t have to leave early to beat an oncoming storm, that is.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up.
–Jeffrey Simons


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