Photograph by Ken Cedeno, Corbis
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A home on Union Beach in New Jersey destroyed by winds and water during Hurricane Sandy.

Photograph by Ken Cedeno, Corbis

Hurricane Sandy Report Warns of Rising Sea, More Storms

Storms will also be more intense, says Hurricane Sandy Recovery Task Force.

A federal task force convened by U.S. President Barack Obama after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the U.S. Atlantic Coast last fall released a report on Monday that included 69 recommendations for rebuilding storm-damaged areas and for reducing the impact of future severe storms.

Chaired by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, the task force stressed the need for a more resilient national infrastructure and for preparing for the possibility that climate change could worsen the effects of hurricanes. (Read "Rising Seas" in the current issue ofNational Geographic magazine.)

Key recommendations from the report:

·          Take climate change into account when planning for future storms, especially how rising sea levels will worsen the effects of storm-induced flooding. This could mean everything from elevating buildings near the ocean to protecting fuel supplies that will be needed for the recovery effort.

·          Make new construction in hurricane-prone areas stronger and more resistant to hurricanes.

·          "Harden" infrastructure such as power grids, and make cell phone service more resistant to damage so communications are available during and after a major storm.

·          Prevent short-term financial hardship that results from loss of income.

·          Streamline the recovery process for small businesses and make it easier for the owners of these businesses to quickly get small loans.

·          Improve local governments' response to disasters such as Sandy by keeping the public better informed about financial assistance for their communities, allowing local planners and technology experts to tailor assistance programs for their communities' needs, and making sure residents have recourse to hold government accountable for the recovery.

Building for Future Conditions

"In recent years, we have seen intense storms hit our neighborhoods with increasing frequency," Donovan said in a statement accompanying the report. "More than ever, it is critical that when we build for the future, we do so in a way that makes communities more resilient to emerging challenges such as rising sea levels, extreme heat, and more frequent and intense storms."

Scientists have calculated that the level of the world's oceans has risen about eight inches in the past century due to a warming of the earth's atmosphere, caused primarily by the use of fossil fuels.

That rise in sea level could greatly worsen the effects of hurricanes' storm surges. A storm surge is a mound of water created by a hurricane's winds and forward motion. As a hurricane makes landfall, the storm surge can cause devastating flooding far inland from the ocean.

Higher sea level would mean that storm surges would affect areas farther inland when a hurricane comes ashore. Extremely powerful hurricanes can have storm surges of 20 feet or more.

While there is consensus among scientists about the sea-level rise, there is still debate about whether hurricanes will be directly affected by climate change. Although hurricanes draw their energy from warm sea water, many scientists say warmer conditions caused by climate change won't necessarily cause more hurricanes to form or increase the intensity of those that do form.