When it comes to real estate, what can often be most attractive can also be most deadly. Gov Cuomo said our area’s greatest strength is also our greatest vulnerability, water. Many of Long Island’s most desirable dwellings are near water, and that water has the potential to destroy them.
And yet hurricanes really haven’t been all that much to worry about here for the last 60 years. Conventional thinking was that if a storm hit we could evacuate the area, let it blow through, and then go back to our still standing homes.
The path of most hurricanes seemed to confirm that we would be OK. Storms that got close to the coast seemed to lose strength and only do minor damage like Agnes in ’72 and Belle in ’76. Storms that gained strength veered away to the east where they couldn’t hurt us as much like Esther in ’61 and Bob in ’91. Even Gloria in ’85 wasn’t catastrophic. Most of its damage was centralized near to its path though Suffolk County.
Sandy changed all that. It stayed near the coast and yet picked up strength from storms that were nearby. It grew in size so that when it made landfall it did damage for a thousand mile radius around. It proved that we can no longer rely on a perceived pattern of storm safety any more.
And it could have been worse. Sandy was merely a category one storm that made landfall more than 100 miles away from Long Island. We may talk about Sandy and Irene as unusually large and strong storms for their time, but there will probably be more of them in the future. A look at the storm pattern frequency in the Atlantic since 1900 shows we are getting more storms, not less.
We look at 9/11 as a day that changed our perspective about protecting our country. We never realized how vulnerable we were to foreign attack. We learned to adjust. We should look at Sandy and October 29th,2012 as the day that changed our perspective for protecting our island. As we rebuild, architects, designers and planners should think of Sandy as a warning shot. They have to figure out how to make Long Island more hurricane proof as we build for the future, or we will be seeing this all over again very soon, or worse.