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October 21, 2022

“In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy came ashore during a spring high tide on the New Jersey coastline, delivering hurricane-force winds, storm tides exceeding 19 feet, driving rain, and plummeting temperatures.” The storm “resulted in 72 direct fatalities … and economic impacts estimated at near $50 billion.”
(USGS Circular 1390, 2013)

We mark the 10th anniversary of this historic storm.

10th Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy 

October 2012

News          Publications          Science

A ship affected by Sandy
The 168-foot John B. Caddell water tanker aground in a parking lot in Stapleton, Staten Island; photograph courtesy of Sean Sweeney.


Selected Studies of Hurricane Sandy's Impacts

The hybrid cyclone nor’easter known as Hurricane Sandy affected the mid-Atlantic and northeastern coastline of the United States during October 28–30, 2012. It produced northeast-to-southeast winds of tropical-storm strength (39 to 73 miles per hour [mi/hr]) that gusted to greater than hurricane strength (greater than 73 mi/hr). This wind field, which was estimated to be about 1,000 miles (mi) wide just prior to U.S. landfall, caused extensive coastal flooding and beach erosion. Severe tidal flooding occurred along coastal areas of southeastern New York, northern New Jersey, and southern Connecticut during the afternoon of October 29 and continued through the early morning of October 30. Although peak storm-tide levels occurred near the times of normal tidal high water during October 29–30, widespread tidal flooding that began during the morning of October 29 did not subside in some coastal areas until October 31.

(USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2015–5036, Analysis of storm-tide impacts from Hurricane Sandy in New York, 2015)

Sandy Wind Visualization
Strength and direction of Hurricane Sandy’s ocean surface winds on October 28, 2012. Wind speeds above 40 miles per hour are depicted in yellow, above 50 are in orange, and above 60 are in red; wind directions are indicated by black arrows. Map is modified from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2013) produced with data from a radar scatterometer on the Indian Space Research Organization’s Oceansat-2. From Schubert and others (2015).


Storm Tide and High-Water Marks

In response to Hurricane Sandy, personnel from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) deployed a temporary network of storm-tide sensors from Virginia to Maine. During the storm, real-time water levels were available from tide gages and rapid-deployment gages (RDGs). After the storm, USGS scientists retrieved the storm-tide sensors and RDGs and surveyed high-water marks. These data demonstrate that the timing of peak storm surge relative to astronomical tide was extremely important in southeastern New York. For example, along the south shores of New York City and western Suffolk County, the peak storm surge of 6–9 ft generally coincided with the astronomical high tide, which resulted in substantial coastal flooding. In the Peconic Estuary and northern Nassau County, however, the peak storm surge of 9 ft and nearly 12 ft, respectively, nearly coincided with normal low tide, which helped spare these communities from more severe coastal flooding.

(Learning from the Impacts of Superstorm Sandy, Chapter 2 - Measuring Storm Tide and High-water Marks Caused by Hurricane Sandy in New York, 2015)

Peak storm-tide elevations produced by Hurricane Sandy in New York counties.
Peak storm-tide elevations produced by Hurricane Sandy in New York counties.
Peak storm-tide elevations produced by Hurricane Sandy in New York counties. Inset shows enlargement of the five counties that comprise New York City—Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, and Richmond.


Bed-Sediment Concentrations of Wastewater Compounds, Hormones and PAHs

Bed sediment samples from 79 coastal New York and New Jersey, USA sites were analyzed for 75 compounds including wastewater associated contaminants, PAHs, and other organic compounds to assess the post-Hurricane Sandy distribution of organic contaminants among six regions. These results provide the first assessment of wastewater compounds, hormones, and PAHs in bed sediment for this region. Concentrations of most wastewater contaminants and PAHs were highest in the most developed region (Upper Harbor/Newark Bay, UHNB) and reflected the wastewater inputs to this area. Although the lack of pre-Hurricane Sandy data for most of these compounds make it impossible to assess the effect of the storm on wastewater contaminant concentrations, PAH concentrations in the UHNB region reflect pre-Hurricane Sandy conditions in this region. Lower hormone concentrations than predicted by the total organic carbon relation occurred in UHNB samples, suggesting that hormones are being degraded in the UHNB region.

(Marine Pollution Bulletin (107) 489-498, Regional variability in bed-sediment concentrations of wastewater compounds, hormones and PAHs for portions of coastal New York and New Jersey impacted by Hurricane Sandy, 2016)

Bed-Sediment Concentrations
Detected concentrations of 11 different compounds were used to compute the PCDU (personal care/domestic use) compounds, including several fragrances, surfactants, and other compounds associated with consumer use. The hormone method was used to analyze for 20 compounds, including 9 estrogens, 6 androgens, two progestins, two plant and animal biochemicals, and bisphenol A (BPA). From Phillips and others (2016).


Wastewater-Associated Contaminants in the Bed Sediment Before and After Hurricane Sandy

Changes in bed sediment chemistry of Hempstead Bay (HB) have been evaluated in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in the release of billions of liters of poorly-treated sewage into tributaries and channels throughout the bay. Surficial grab samples (top 5 cm) collected before and (or) after Hurricane Sandy from sixteen sites in HB were analyzed for 74 wastewater tracers and steroid hormones, and total organic carbon. Data from pre- and post-storm comparisons of the most frequently detected wastewater tracers and ratios of steroid hormone and of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon concentrations indicate an increased sewage signal near outfalls and downstream of where raw sewage was discharged. Median concentration of wastewater tracers decreased after the storm at sites further from outfalls. Overall, changes in sediment quality probably resulted from a combination of additional sewage inputs, sediment redistribution, and stormwater runoff in the days to weeks following Hurricane Sandy.

(Marine Pollution Bulletin (107) 499-508, Comparison of wastewater-associated contaminants in the bed sediment of Hempstead Bay, New York, before and after Hurricane Sandy, 2016)

Wastewater-Associated Contaminants
Hempstead Bay bed sediment sample locations. Map of sites sampled in Hempstead Bay, New York, 2010–2013. For sites with samples collected pre- and post-Hurricane Sandy, sites are classified by change in concentrations between pre- and post-Hurricane Sandy conditions. Concentration increases (shown as sites with red dot) and concentration decreases (shown as sites with blue dot) are significant at the p = 0.10 level by rank test. (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.) From Shawn Fisher and others (2016).


The Impact of Onsite Wastewater Disposal Systems on Groundwater in Areas inundated by Hurricane Sandy

Coastal onsite wastewater disposal systems (OWDS) were inundated by Hurricane Sandy's storm tide. This study compares the shallow groundwater quality (nutrients, pharmaceuticals, and hormones) downgradient of OWDS before and after Hurricane Sandy, where available, and establishes a baseline for wastewater influence on groundwater in coastal communities inundated by Hurricane Sandy. Nutrients and contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) were detected in shallow groundwater downgradient of OWDS in two settings along the New Jersey and New York coastlines: 1) a single, centralized OWDS in a park; and 2) multiple OWDS (cesspools) in low-density residential and mixed-use/medium density residential areas. The most frequently detected pharmaceuticals were lidocaine (40%), carbamazepine (36%), and fexofenadine, bupropion, desvenlafaxine, meprobamate, and tramadol (24–32%). Increases in the number and total concentration of pharmaceuticals after Hurricane Sandy may reflect other factors (seasonality, usage) besides inundation, and demonstrate the importance of analyzing for a wide variety of CECs in regional studies.

(Marine Pollution Bulletin (107) 509-517, The impact of onsite wastewater disposal systems on groundwater in areas inundated by Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey, 2016)

Wastewater Disposal Systems
Locations of sites sampled in 2013 in A) Sandy Hook, NJ, and B) Suffolk County, Long Island, NY. LDR = low density residential, MMDR = mixed-use/medium density residential. Additional site code information is available in Tables S1 and S2. From Irene Fisher and others (2016).


Science to Support Coastal Resilience

The USGS Science Plan was developed immediately following Hurricane Sandy. Across five major themes, USGS used a unique geospatial approach to put extreme storms into the greater context of climate change, sea-level rise and coastal vulnerability.

Read Science Plan


Bed sediment samples collected from oyster farms and a marsh on Shinnecock Nation Tribal Lands
Bed sediment samples collected from oyster farms and a marsh on Shinnecock Nation Tribal Lands, NY that were inundated during Hurricane Sandy. From Human- and Ecological-Health Concerns Related to Transport and Persistence of Contaminants on Shinnecock Nation Tribal Lands.


Research Themes

USGS scientists are working to assess forecast effectiveness, improve how we share information, and identify gaps to improve the information and tools we provide.

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