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NY Coastal Watch: Will Natural Barriers Do Their Job in Hurricane?

IMAGE: NOAA Satellite Hurricane Sandy
October 29. 2012
IMAGE: NOAA Satellite Hurricane Sandy

NEW YORK - Today, New Yorkers join an estimated 50 million people along the East Coast who are being threatened by Hurricane Sandy. Warnings have been issued for a life-threatening storm surge. For coastal communities, a lot is riding on the health of natural barriers, environmental experts say.

Nate Woiwode, marine and coastal policy adviser with the Nature Conservancy on Long Island, says beaches and salt marshes shield coastal areas from the worst impacts of storm surge. Community planning that protects these natural barriers pays off big-time during high-intensity weather events, he adds.

"It isn't just for nature's sake. Protecting barriers is really for the communities that rely on them. As storms like this come in, if those resources are healthy the communities are safer. When the resources are degraded, the communities are in greater danger."

From all indications, Sandy will be far more than just a costal event, he says. The storm is expected to spread flood damage from swollen rivers and heavy rainfall well inland, into parts of New England and upstate.

Long-range planning is needed, Woiwode says. One way to keep natural barriers healthy in order to protect against the next New York hurricane is to be careful what you build on and around them, he advises.

"Putting bridges and roads and buildings in places that are less vulnerable to flooding is going to benefit people, and it's also going to benefit the natural systems that are going to help to further provide protections and benefits to people. These storms really bring to the forefront this challenge we face as communities."

Woiwodie says the challenge is even more daunting as these late-season storms now appear to be happening with greater frequency.

"Even though it has been a year, or just over a year, since Irene came through - and that feels like a long time to some people - these storms are so close to each other that it's actually hard for a community to have done a lot."

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY