In New York City, subway service started back up yesterday after Hurricane Sunday flooded seven East River subway tunnels and sent the Metropolitan Transit Authority scrambling inspect hundreds of miles of track along the 108-year-old subway system. But many of the flooded tunnels, which run from downtown Brooklyn through lower Manhattan, remain out of commission, and the power outage in lower Manhattan has stopped service in the borough’s lower half, even across the city’s bridges. On Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg said it would be unlikely that service was fully restored by the weekend.
Regardless of whether Sandy can be linked directly to climate change, it was the type of extreme weather event that will only become more intense as the planet warms. Old or new, few electricity grids, public transit systems, bridges, roads, or communications networks were built to withstand these challenges. But despite the flooding that occurred during Sandy, this isn’t necessarily one of those stories where officials saw warning signs and did nothing. Since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, disaster preparedness experts in New York and elsewhere have begun to embrace push the idea of “resilience”—building infrastructure that can weather such storms and setting in place support systems that allow public utilities to recover quickly from damage. Although New York’s public transit system may not be up and running at full capacity quite yet, the city’s response is a good example of how officials are starting to change their thinking about risks like extreme weather and how to respond to them.
This time, the preparations are a little more familiar. We would have had a few gallons of bottled water left over from Irene, but we’d moved and left them behind. Last time, we bought canned stew that, when finally consumed for lunch months later, turned out to be almost too salty to eat. This time, we bought low-sodium chili and canned ravioli stamped with the USDA organic seal of approval, optimistic that it will means the can’s contents are more palatable than Chef Boyardee. We may or may not have procured too many bagels.
The night of the first presidential debate, I showed up at a watching party unusually sweaty. It was a heavy, humid night in New York City—too hot for October, reminiscent of an evening in late June. I know that weather’s not climate, but I couldn’t help wondering: without climate change, how likely could it be that a night a few weeks into the fall would feel like this one? Was I experiencing the creep of days hotter than they should be, nights that just won’t cool down? Most Americans, it turns out, are asking themselves similar questions.
The carcass of a passenger pigeon weighed in at exactly the size they preferred. Dead prairie chickens did, too. They aren’t so picky about the carcasses they bury: mammals will do as well as birds, but the bigger the carcass—which allows them to produce and feed more offspring—the better for our friend the American burying beetle.