Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy....why so much damage?

Why did Hurricane Sandy, which made U.S. landfall as a Category 1 storm last Monday, cause so much terrible damage? Winds were in the 70's with higher gusts. To people who live in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye these are not exceptional wind speeds. We have seen several storms in the last few years with similar winds and we've suffered only relatively minor damage. This year Mahahual, which is only 60 miles north of San Pedro, took a direct hit from 90mph Hurricane Ernesto and suffered relatively minor damage. Mind you, in 2007 the same Mexican town took 165mph Hurricane Dean and got flattened.

The same Hurricane Dean gave us 80mph winds which gave us a 18 hour power outage and a few downed tree limbs. That was it....less than 48 hours to a full recovery. In some parts of the U.S. North East it is said that it will be weeks or months before all power is restored. Let's look at the many reasons for the disparity in damage between recent storms which have hit our island and the U.S. North-East:

1. Storm size: Sandy was monstrously large, 1000 miles across and with damaging winds spread over 200 miles in diameter as it made landfall. The tropical cyclones which have affected Belize in the last 10 years have been much smaller in size, even some have been a bit more powerful wind-wise.

2. Storm surge off an open sea: We have our coral and limestone Belize Barrier Reef, the North East Coast of the USA has deep ocean and sand dune barrier islands. Protection wise there is no comparison. Most of Sandy's damage was from surging salt water.

3. the U.S. North East the lunar tides are measured in  feet. New York, for example, sees a 5 - 6 ft tidal difference each day and it's not an exceptional range by any means. Some parts of the U.S. North East see even greater tidal ranges and Sandy hit during a full moon.  Here in the Caribbean tides are measured in inches. Again, Sandy's main weapon of destruction was the massive amount of sea water which surged ashore at high tide. Imagine if San Pedro had a 5ft tidal range each day........

4. We're used to storms and so much of our construction is geared to taking a hit. Mind you, make no mistake, a strong Category 2 or above storm giving us a direct hit would cause plenty of damage. Category 4 Hurricane Keith in 2000 was no fun for us at all, direct hit, lots of damage, it was weeks and months to a full recovery. We lost our (wooden) house. In the U.S. North East the homes are all built close to the ground. Most "totalled" homes were done in by the surging waters...look at aerial photos of Sandy's aftermath and you don't see missing roofs caused by strong winds...all of the damage is at ground level from the sea.

5. In the last 30 years U.S. coastal areas have seen massive development. There are literally millions of new homes inappropriately located for the type of construction they're made from. There are some really low-lying areas where huge luxury home subdivisions have been created...some from reclaimed land. And the homes are built to ground level. In a part of the world with such high tides and no barrier reef protection one has to shake one's head at such unfettered and badly planned development. It's one thing to create such housing in low-lying areas, it's quite another not to raise the buildings off the ground on concrete columns in order to protect against storm surge damage. (This is why I shake MY head at the DFC subdivision here on the island...everyone here knows what will happen to it one day...naturally it was built by government...most private individuals would not have been so insane to have planned it that way).

The U.S. and Canadian North East has had its fair share of storms over the last 100 years. it only takes a deviation of a few degrees to cause a storm to make landfall rather than go out to sea. People talk about climate change causing Sandy. In reality Sandy was just another Atlantic hurricane which made an unfortunate turn of a few degrees. This caused it to make landfall where it did. Need proof of this? Look at the storms which have hit Halifax, Newfoundland and the vicinity, in the last 100's of years. Did "global warming" cause these storms to hit the cold north east?

Our good wishes and prayers go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy. We hope your recovery takes a lot less time than is currently being predicted.


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