This past Wednesday, 13.57 inches of rain fell on Long Island in a 24-hour period, setting a new record for the state of New York. Cars were submerged, roads were washed out, and train stations inundated. In all, Long Island received more rainfall in one day than would normally fall in the entire summer season.
If it feels like these kinds of storms are happening more frequently, that’s because they are. Since the late 1950s, the Northeast has experienced a 71 percent increase in “very heavy precipitation.” Scientists have attributed this in part to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures.
And as it turns out, it’s not just our cars and our train stations that we should be worried about. Much of our energy infrastructure is also situated along coasts and shores, making them vulnerable to rising sea levels, storm surges, and flash flooding.
When Energy and Water Mix
The U.S. Energy Information Agency recently released a new mapping tool that shows how our energy infrastructure—think natural gas facilities, nuclear power plants, electricity stations—might be affected by hurricanes, heavy rains, overflowing rivers, and other flood events.
The map show areas that have a 1% (aqua) and 0.2% (orange) annual chance of flooding (a 1-in-100 and 1-in-500 chance, respectively), and overlays it with the location of our country’s energy infrastructure. To determine if a specific area is vulnerable, users can input an address, town, or county name and see street-level results. In fact, you must zoom in to street level view to really see the details.
Even a cursory look at this tool will confirm what you’re probably already thinking: a lot of our infrastructure is already at risk, especially in New York City.
The development of this tool was spurred by a request from New York City after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the East Coast, causing an estimated $65 billion in damage and extended blackouts in downtown Manhattan. The thinking is that the more data we have, the better decisions we can make in planning and in responding to emergencies.
In the image at the top of this post, you’ll see an area of Queens, the Bronx, and Randall’s Island with multiple power plants (we count at least seven, plus two petroleum terminals) at risk.
Here’s another shot, this time showing massive flooding in Red Hook and along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn:
Time to start battening down the hatches, NYC.
Photo credit: US Energy Information Agency