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Analysis of storm-tide impacts from Hurricane Sandy in New York

July 21, 2015

The hybrid cyclone-nor’easter known as Hurricane Sandy affected the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States during October 28-30, 2012, causing extensive coastal flooding. Prior to storm landfall, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) deployed a temporary monitoring network from Virginia to Maine to record the storm tide and coastal flooding generated by Hurricane Sandy. This sensor network augmented USGS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) networks of permanent monitoring sites that also documented storm surge. Continuous data from these networks were supplemented by an extensive post-storm high-water-mark (HWM) flagging and surveying campaign. The sensor deployment and HWM campaign were conducted under a directed mission assignment by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The need for hydrologic interpretation of monitoring data to assist in flood-damage analysis and future flood mitigation prompted the current analysis of Hurricane Sandy by the USGS under this FEMA mission assignment.

The analysis of storm-tide impacts focused on three distinct but related aspects of coastal flooding from Hurricane Sandy, including flooding inland along the tidal reach of the Hudson River. These aspects are (1) comparisons of peak storm-tide elevations to those of historical storms and to annual exceedance probabilities, (2) assessments of storm-surge characteristics, and (3) comparisons of maps of inundation extent that were derived from differing amounts of available storm-tide data. Most peak storm-tide elevations from Hurricane Sandy were greater than about 9.5 feet (ft) above North American Vertical Datum of 1988.

Peak storm-tide elevations from Hurricane Sandy were compared with data for the intense nor’easter of December 11–13, 1992, and Hurricane Irene (August 27–28, 2011), which weakened to a tropical storm before arriving in New York. Peak storm-tide elevations from Hurricane Sandy were higher than those from the December 1992 nor’easter at 24 of 27 sites; most differences were greater than about 0.7 ft or 9 percent (above the historical storm tide). Peak storm-tide elevations from Hurricane Sandy were higher than those from Tropical Storm Irene at all sites; most differences were greater than about 2.5 ft or 48 percent. Data from permanent and temporary monitoring sites and HWM sites were compared with corresponding FEMA flood elevations for the 10-, 2-, 1-, and 0.2-percent annual exceedance probabilities in New York. Peak storm-tide elevations from Hurricane Sandy had annual exceedance probabilities less than or equal to 1 percent and (or) greater than 0.2 percent at a plurality of sites—184 of 413. Peak storm-tide elevations greater than or equal to the 0.2-percent flood elevation accounted for 81 of 413 sites. Peak storm-tide elevations less than the 10-percent flood elevation accounted for only 10 of 413 sites.

Data from selected permanent monitoring sites in the USGS and NOAA networks were used to assess storm-surge magnitude associated with the peak storm tide, and magnitude and timing of the peak storm surge. Most magnitudes of the peak storm surge were greater than about 8.3 ft, and most magnitudes of the storm surge component of the peak storm tide were greater than about 7.8 ft. Timing of peak storm surge arrival with respect to local phase of tide controlled where the most extreme peak storm-tide levels and coastal flooding occurred. This finding has bearing not only for locations impacted by the highest storm tides from Hurricane Sandy, but also for those that had the greatest storm surges yet were spared the worst flooding because of fortuitous timing during this storm.

Results of FEMA Hazus Program (HAZUS) flood loss analyses performed for New York counties were compared for extents of storm-tide inundation from Hurricane Sandy mapped (1) pre-storm, (2) on November 11, 2012, and (3) on February 14, 2013. The resulting depictions of estimated total building stock losses document how differing amounts of available USGS data affect the resolution and accuracy of storm-tide inundation extents. Using the most accurate results from the final (February 14, 2013) inundation extent, estimated losses range from $380 million to $5.9 billion for individual New York counties; total estimated aggregate losses are about $23 billion for all New York counties. Quality of the inundation extents used in HAZUS analyses has a substantial effect on final results. These findings can be used to inform future post-storm reconstruction planning and estimation of insurance claims.

Publication Year 2015
Title Analysis of storm-tide impacts from Hurricane Sandy in New York
DOI 10.3133/sir20155036
Authors Christopher Schubert, Ronald Busciolano, Paul P. Hearn, Ami N. Rahav, Riley Behrens, Jason S. Finkelstein, Jack Monti, Amy E. Simonson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2015-5036
Index ID sir20155036
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center