Is NJ prepared for the next Sandy? We may not know until it comes
Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey eight years ago Thursday, and although the state has replenished beaches and made infrastructure improvements to prove it is "stronger than the storm," some residents are still not able to enjoy the comforts of safe, strong homes.
The still-incomplete recovery is just one indicator of how we may remain vulnerable to other life-changing weather occurrences.
David Robinson, New Jersey's state climatologist at Rutgers University, said Sandy was a "transformative event" in 2012 in the same way that COVID-19 has been in 2020, and similar collaboration is needed to make sure we are better prepared for both weather and health crises in the future.
"I think we see that it is a team effort throughout a very large village that makes these events survivable, in many respects," Robinson said.
Sandy took many in the Garden State by surprise, being so late in the Atlantic hurricane season, but Robinson offered a reminder that that season typically lasts until Nov. 30.
And on Oct. 29, 2011, exactly one year before Sandy hit, and just weeks after Tropical Storm Irene, parts of north and central New Jersey experienced their worst-ever early season snowstorm.
Just in the past week across the United States, we have seen wildfires, ice storms, snowstorms, record cold temperatures, and Hurricane Zeta, whose effects are washing over New Jersey.
In a weather sense, Robinson said 2020 has thankfully been a "benign" year so far for New Jersey but that doesn't mean we shouldn't prepare for every possible eventuality.
"We've had our rains, we've certainly had our heat, but we haven't had a big drought, we haven't had a big hurricane," he said. "We didn't have snow last winter. Shhh!"
How do we prepare, though? Robinson and his Rutgers colleagues say the answer is factoring climate change and sea-level rise into long-term planning, with a focus on the most vulnerable and hardest-hit communities.
The latter part of that approach also applies to how we play the COVID endgame, Robinson said.
"There are going to be some very interesting lessons learned from COVID and our response as a community to that, as well as lessons we learned from Sandy and our response to that," Robinson said.
Whether we are sufficiently ready or not, Robinson said, no one may yet know. And we may not know until the next Sandy comes along — but he hopes that won't happen.
"Who knows exactly what the next event will be that will be that significant?" he said. "I'd like to hope it's a generation or two away, but one can never be sure of that."