Storms and “Super Storm”

We have power back.  And internet.  And cell service.  All of which took nearly a week down here at the end of the earth.  Though I am NOT complaining, as some friends still don’t have internet back.

Folks here are calling it a freak storm.  But I am having a hard time seeing it that way.  Over the last few years, we in the northeast have begun experiencing storms right around Halloween that are dangerous, disruptive, and costly.

In 2011, 3.2 million residences and businesses had power outages during the “Snowtober” storm.  Like this year’s storm, that one hit when trees still held their leaves–leading to not only outages, but massive tree damage.  And that weather wonder came on the heels of Hurricane Irene and a spate of tornadoes (yep, tornadoes) in Western Mass.

A year later, over a week-plus in late October 2012, Superstorm Sandy, the second costliest hurricane in US history–coming it at a whopping $65 Billion–hit the entire eastern seaboard, after causing devastation in the Caribbean.  Ten million power customers in the US had power interrupted.  Nearly two hundred people died due to weather-related events.

And a week before this Halloween (2014), a rainy northeaster hit New England, interrupting power to 44,000 households.  That, of course, was followed by the storm we just endured.

This surge of Halloween-time storm activity was worrying me this morning, which is why I began to write this post.  I am wondering what the conjunction of nor’easters coming earlier and hurricanes driving further north is likely to portend.  Now, though, I am past wondering and well into worrying, because I just got back from a reading by Kathryn Miles from her new book SUPER STORM.”  It’s about Sandy.  But really, it’s a look at all that went horribly wrong–not just the bad decisions that individuals made, but also the bad decisions that are due to systemic flaws and frailties.  Miles conveys in gripping detail what happened over nine days.  But as importantly, she makes clear the crippled technologies, the poor communication, the skewed perception of risk that all also contributed to the disastrous outcome.

During the Q&A, Miles emphasized that learning about how frail the weather infrastructure of the US is was one of the most disturbing parts of writing the book.  She wonders how we can make good decisions in the face of bad weather if we don’t have adequate data to predict just how bad it will be.

Great question.