Last year, 2012, was a hot one. In fact, it was the hottest year on record for the continental U.S., according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, both of which study the phenomenon known as climate change, a.k.a. global warming.
Not only that, the agencies said, 2012 was among the 10 hottest years on record for the world, with the mean global temperature rising by a full 1 degree Fahrenheit.
Because of last year’s steamy-hot summer, we saw ocean temperatures off the Atlantic Coast rise to dangerously historic highs. Warm ocean water is a necessary ingredient of hurricane formation –– the other being a jet of hot air blown from northwest Africa. Warmer temperatures allow greater amounts of oceanic surface water to be sucked into the atmosphere, where it condenses and forms massive rain clouds. The clouds, if spun in a circle by an African easterly jet, form a hurricane.
That’s precisely what we got in late October 2012. Hurricane Sandy, the second costliest hurricane ever to strike the U.S., after Katrina in 2005, barreled up the Eastern Seaboard and bore down on the New York metropolitan area, unleashing a multi-billion-dollar swath of devastation the likes of which we had not seen since the Long Island Express in 1938.
Sandy, which was technically a tropical storm when it made landfall, flooded low-lying South Shore homes with three to six feet of saltwater on Oct. 29, toppling trees and telephone poles like matchsticks and frying the electrical grid. Then we were hit by a nor’easter that blanketed the region with snow and sent temperatures plummeting into the 20s at night.
In the storms’ aftermath, it was very much survival of the fittest. But did it have to be? Did people need to suffer as they did? Could we have done better?
Last December, President Obama formed the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and designated Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, as its chairman. The task force, which includes secretaries and administrators from 22 federal agencies, from the Treasury Department to the National Economic Council, was charged with answering these critical questions.