STORRS - Two days before Superstorm Sandy struck Connecticut in 2012, UConn scientists fed measurements from the storm and historical data from others into a computer model they developed and forecast where the most damage and power outages would occur.
Their forecast was very accurate in predicting both the scope and the location of the outages: The model predicted 13,500 damage locations; the storm created about 15,000.
Now, Eversource, the state's largest electric utility, and the university have now teamed up to create a center devoted to studying ways to better predict and prepare the state's power infrastructure for natural disasters.
The Eversource Energy Center at the University of Connecticut officially opened last month after getting approval from the school's board of trustees. It includes faculty and graduate students in environmental, civil, electrical and structural engineering, computer science and forest management.
In addition to storm forecasting, the center's scientists will study the resiliency of the state's electric infrastructure and the trees that grow near power lines.
Eversource has committed $9 million over five years to fund the center, an investment the utility believes will pay off.
"If we can shave hours off small events and days off large events by prestaging the right amount of resources, by making our vegetation management and infrastructure hardening programs better and more cost effective, I think it could pay back several times over," said Ken Bowes, Eversource's vice president of engineering.
Center director Emmanouil Anagnostou, an environmental engineering professor, says the center also will eventually include the university's business school, which will help Eversource with risk analysis, deciding where to spend money on reinforcing the system and creating an optimal storm response plan.
There are other power companies working with scientists at schools across the nation on vegetation or storm forecasting issues, Anagnostou said. But the UConn center is the first to combine multiple disciplines to attack the problems in one place.
He said they hope the center will help attract students and grant money, and give current graduate students some real-world experience that will help them land jobs.
The center will refine the school's storm forecasting model with data from each subsequent event, making it easier to predict where winds, rain, tides, snow and ice are likely to present the most problems, Anagnostou said.
The school put the power-outage forecast model to work last month for a relatively small coastal storm.
"It predicted a midrange of about 350 trouble spots and we ended up with about 400 trouble spots," Bowes said. "So, it's pretty accurate."
For now, the storm prediction model is being shared only between the school and Eversource. But as it becomes refined the center may decide to share its predictions with the public to alert home and business owners in areas projected to be hard hit, officials said.
Scientists at the center also are using laser technology to create 3D maps of the state's electric infrastructure and surrounding vegetation that can show the size of trees and where they are relative to power lines. It also will show whether power poles are leaning and may be vulnerable.
And natural resources scientists are putting computer sensors on trees that measure out how the different species react to wind, rain and ice - whether standing alone or in a forest.
"About 90 percent of our electrical outages are related to down trees or tree limbs breaking," said Bowes. "And we're hopeful that with this research we'll be able to prune and trim the right trees, not all the trees."
When storms like Superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene strike they can also take wash away part of the state's history.
On Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced a series historic preservation initiatives that will help protect historic sites along Connecticut's shoreline. Projects include items such as surveys of historic neighborhoods and the development of a mobile app for owners of historic homes on the coast.
"This funding will help us respond quickly and strategically should we face another devastating event," Malloy said in a release. "Connecticut is committed to safeguarding the state's unique cultural heritage even as it addresses the coastal resiliency challenges of the 21st century. These are important, preparatory steps forward, and we're pleased these federal dollars can be used to help so many areas along the coastline."
A phase of the $4.1 million project includes:
Surveys and inventories of historic sites and structures in selected towns, a searchable database of documented historic resources, a resiliency plan for coastal communities, a survey of historic dams and associated resources, re-evaluation of archaeological sites affected by Superstorm Sandy and the identification of sites threatened by future storms and sea level rise, a nautical archaeological survey and assessment of storm damage to shipwrecks in Connecticut waters, development of a geospatial database of historic properties, a history of coastal building elevation in Connecticut and elevation guidelines for property owners, an app for surveys of historic cemeteries and a history of nineteenth and twentieth century architecture in coastal Connecticut.
"Connecticut stands to gain from these innovative projects in many ways," DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith said. "State agencies and municipalities will be better prepared to respond to future disasters, more properties will be eligible for disaster relief funding, and perhaps most importantly, resiliency efforts can be targeted wisely, ensuring historic assets will stand for generations to come and tell the story of Connecticut's history."
The program is administered by the Department of Economic and Community Development's State Historic Preservation Office, in partnership with the National Park Service. Following damage the state experienced from Super Storm Sandy, Congress awarded Connecticut $8,014,769 for disaster relief projects in the coastal counties. Funds were granted to SHPO through the Park Service's Historic Preservation Fund.
Rising sea levels will "drown'' the salt marshes that protect Connecticut coastal communities by 2080, causing marsh areas to advance inland and flood existing roads, homes and businesses, according to a new study.
The study, "Salt Marsh Advancement Along Connecticut's Coast," was prepared by the Nature Conservancy to examine different environmental outcomes related to rising sea levels. The report, according to its authors, is designed to help "decision-makers explore flooding scenarios from sea-level rise and/or storm surge."
The report looks at the conservation of marshland as "a cost effective, long-term part of the solution that will protect people, infrastructure and natural systems from extreme weather and climatic change."
The loss of salt marshes could cause major problems in Greenwich, says Sue Baker, a marine biologist and educator. According to a Nature Conservancy study, Greenwich has 863.8 acres of marshes.
"We have already had kind of an assault on our salt marshes in recent decades. We've lost some of them already," she said. "They're so important. They're the border between the land and the sea."
Loss of salt marshes will make inland flooding more extensive, Baker said.
The new study shows that in 65 years, even sections of Interstate 95 may be routinely flooded twice a day at high tide.
According to Baker, a former teacher at Greenwich High School, the loss of salt marshes would open the way for more flooding in lowland areas in Greenwich.
"They create a wonderfully spongy substance, they're a wonderful barrier," Baker said. "Flooding will definitely be a problem."
Aside from their properties to absorb storm surges, Baker notes, "They're a really valuable habitat, for all kinds of wildlife."
The Nature Conservancy report says coastal cities will face major challenges if sea levels rise.
Some cities, like Bridgeport and New Haven, have structures that may have to be abandoned or relocated in the coming years. A portion of I-95 that runs along the Long Wharf area of New Haven could be regularly flooded by 2080.
The environmental organization said preservation of shoreline habitats should be a public-policy priority. The organization cites a study that found every $1 spent on preparation can save taxpayers $4 in natural disaster costs.
The report includes maps of the projected coastal impact in Milford, Stratford, Bridgeport and other shoreline Fairfield County communities.
Preserving open space to allow new marshes and dunes to be created will afford more protection for inland areas from extreme weather, but much of the land needed for that is currently developed, the study found.
Severe drought affecting many parts of the nation is convincing skeptics of global warming to reconsider their position on the matter.
For the first time since 2008, 7 out of 10 Americans indicate that there is solid evidence of global warming, according to a report from the National Surveys on Energy and Environment. This is a 10 percent increase from last fall and just behind the record 72 percent in 2008. More than 60 percent of those who believe global warming evidence cite severe drought as having a "very large effect" on their stance.
Dr. Nancy Selover, the state climatologist for Arizona, said there is good science supporting the public's belief in global warming,
"We're seeing warming in different areas and in some cases we're not necessarily seeing evidence of extreme events, but continuously warmer temperatures," she said, adding that drought is not a good indicator of global warming.
"We have cycles of drought that come and go. In the 20th century, we had a 37-year wet period that followed an extremely short dry 10 years ... and now we're in a 21-year dry period," said Selover.
Regardless of whether drought is proof of climate change, environmentalists are encouraged by the study's finding of increased acceptance of global warming.
"The misinformation that came out confused some people for a bit, but eventually people figured it out. A lot of that is due to good scientists getting that information out," said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter.
"It's hard to get action if people don't think there is a problem. No matter what the problem is, you have to acknowledge that there is one. Then, the next step is to figure out the kinds of actions that we can take to address it," said Bahr.
The report also found:
56 percent of Republicans believe there is solid evidence of global warming, up 9 percent from 2014. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents believe in global warming.
Of those who believe in global warming, a record 65 percent say they are "very confident" in their belief.
Of those doubtful of global warming, a record 34 percent say local weather observation has "no effect" on their views. In previous surveys, "large majorities of Americans who do not believe there is evidence of global warming have pointed to local weather observations as the basis for their position."
Larky Hodges, who speaks to groups about climate change, related the issue to the tobacco industry.
"You know how long it took people to understand that cigarettes cause cancer. And you know that was all a misinformation campaign. It's the exact same problem," he said.
Hodges said the issue should transcend political affiliations.
"If you see a flood coming down the road, you're going to be sandbagging with all of your neighbors whether they're Democrats or Republicans," she said. "We should all be in this together and people just have to look past the partisan politics and say what's best for me and my children."
EAST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) - The relentless Wednesday winds have died down in East Haven, but that's not stopping residents there from remembering a storm that brought so much damage and devastation to areas around the Northeast.
It has been three years since Superstorm Sandy hit the Connecticut shoreline. While the damage from that storm destroyed homes and businesses, most of the damage Wednesday was contained to vehicles in the area.
Residents on the shoreline tell News 8 that they haven't seen flooding like this since Sandy touched down. "It came in so fast. I went out to run an errand and when I came back the water was already up, so it was bad," said Dave Levenduski.
In the aftermath of Sandy, residents rebuilt their homes and had them elevated up to 15 feet, which helped contain the property damage to vehicles.
Boardwalks have been rebuilt, sea walls erected, bays cleared of debris and thousands of homes restored three years after Superstorm Sandy pummeled coasts of New Jersey and New York. Yet the rebuilding effort is not finished. Many homes still need to be repaired or rebuilt. Crucial work to shore up infrastructure is ongoing, or still hasn't started.
Many seaside communities hit hard by Sandy show few obvious signs of the disaster. But look closer and you can still find stray buildings with boarded-up windows and sandy lots where houses were demolished and never rebuilt. Neither the federal government nor the states keep reliable statistics on how many damaged homes and businesses are still vacant or in need of repair. More than 8,000 homeowners remain active in New Jersey's main rebuilding grant program. In New York City's Breezy Point neighborhood, 62 of the 355 homes destroyed by flood and fire have yet to be rebuilt. Thousands of homeowners are still fighting with their insurance companies over the cost of repairs. Many homes along the coast have been elevated to get them out of harm's way for the next big storm, but many more have simply been rebuilt as they were, leaving owners vulnerable to both future storm surges and rising insurance premiums.
Sandy's salty floodwaters did lasting damage to the tunnels that carry trains and cars beneath New York City's rivers. Manhattan's destroyed South Ferry subway station is still being rebuilt and won't reopen until 2018. A vehicle tunnel linking Manhattan to Brooklyn will be closed on weeknights for the next three years for rehabilitation. Of nine damaged subway tunnels, seven still need major work. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system, is spending $3.8 billion on repairs and anti-flooding measures. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is still evaluating long-term repairs to its road and rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River. Amtrak was been warning that its tunnels in and out of Manhattan also need major rehabilitation. Taking them out of service for repairs in the coming years could cause major disruptions in rail service on the corridor between Washington and Boston. New Jersey has rebuilt Route 35, the second-busiest north-south highway along the Jersey shore.
All but one of the Jersey shore's famed beach boardwalks have been rebuilt; the last one, in Long Branch, is underway. They were among the first tangible signs of recovery; shore towns made rebuilding the walkways a priority to show residents things were getting back to normal. (A storm-wrecked boardwalk in Seaside Heights, where the MTV show "Jersey Shore" was filmed, was rebuilt twice; part of it caught fire in 2013). In New York City, the Rockaway Beach boardwalk is still being rebuilt, this time with flood defenses that include baffle walls to hold back the surf. Manhattan's South Street Seaport is still being rebuilt. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently put the district on its list of most endangered historic places in the country because of the ambition of the redevelopment plans.
Many billions of dollars are now being spent to protect critical infrastructure from future storms, including electrical utilities and water and sewage treatment plants. In Sea Bright, New Jersey, repairs are being made to a damaged oceanfront rock sea wall, but other hard-hit communities' storm protection plans remain on the drawing board. The cost of storm-proofing low-lying urban areas could be astronomical. The federal government sponsored a $1 billion contest to promote innovative protection systems, including breakwaters, berms and drainage canals that can keep water out of low-lying parts of New York City, and riverside New Jersey cities like Hoboken and Weehawken.
HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
A slew of hospitals, nursing homes and clinics that had to be evacuated and temporarily closed because of the storm are back in business, but many are still restoring damaged infrastructure or replacing it with something more flood-resistant. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has given New York City hospitals more than $2.7 billion to restore their campuses and do things like build new floodwalls and relocate emergency generators. One damaged full-service hospital, in Long Beach, New York, never reopened after the storm, although the island now has an emergency room.
A new study finds rising sea levels will put thousands of acres of land in coastal Connecticut underwater at high tide by the year 2080.
The study, released Friday by the Nature Conservancy, says by 2080, about 24,000 acres of currently dry land in coastal Connecticut will be underwater twice a day at high tide.
Adam Whelchel, Director of Science at the Nature Conservancy, said nearly a third of that land is developed. That means during high tide, sea water will get into buildings like schools, churches and houses in the 29 Connecticut cities and towns that border Long Island Sound. It'll also reach parts of Tweed New Haven Airport, the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford, and sections of I-95.
"What the future will involve is a lot of water in a lot of different places, and learning to accommodate water and living with daily tides in places where they don't exist now in these coastal municipalities," he said.
Whelchel said to accommodate that water, Connecticut will need to raise roads and build stronger drainage systems. In places that haven't been developed, he said cities and towns might have to reconsider whether to allow anything to be built there at all.
The study is based on projections from NASA climate scientists. It's part of a series of coastal resiliency studies the Nature Conservancy started in 2007. Whelchel said a study showing the same information for Suffolk County on Long Island is planned to be released early next year.