Technically this is what is known as a 100-year-event. In legislation and science this refers to an event where these extreme conditions statistically, would only reoccur every 100 years. It doesn't mean it can't happen two years in a row, just that it is unlikely. As the USGS puts it;
The term "100-year flood" is used in an attempt to simplify the definition of a flood that statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year. Likewise, the term "100-year storm" is used to define a rainfall event that statistically has this same 1-percent chance of occurring. In other words, over the course of 1 million years, these events would be expected to occur 10,000 times. But, just because it rained 10 inches in one day last year doesn't mean it can't rain 10 inches in one day again this year.If you recall Katrina, that was also considered a 100-year event as was Irene. These are occurring with more and more frequency. As Andrew Cuomo put it, "We have a 100-year flood every two years now."
This is an unfortunate time for such a tragedy and possibly holds a little morbid irony. There has been a lot of discussion surrounding Sandy and the possibility that it was caused by climate change. The general consensus amongst scientists is while one cannot blantantly say that the storm was caused by Climate Change, changes in the environement and the Earth's climate has altered the background conditions over which these events occur. These elements can be linked to unusual size and intensity of Sandy. The real effect of climate change here is that we are probably going to have more of our normally occurring storms and weather; floods, hurricanes, droughts, blizzards, they will all intensify. We need to get prepared for more 100 year events.
The ironic part of this whole situation is that there was one subject that was not mentioned during any of the presidential debates, first time in a generation. Mitt Romney even scoffed at the whole premise of climate change mitigation at the RNC. While the President may be slightly concerned that the missing conversation topic. this issue not being at the forefront of the political discourse is unacceptable. The prevalence of climate deniers is frightening.
A a society, we must not forget that these weather and climate issues are something that will continue. We will need to deal with and curb as best we can. Earlier in the month 350.org founder appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher the same day that he had a Panel at SXSW Eco. This was the same panel where I asked the "Why is Climate Change and resource protection a bi-partisan issue?" While on Real Time, McKibben straight-talks a climate change denial question from Mark Foley.
The good thing is that the conversation seems to be moving in the right direction. On a congressional level, this morning Senator Bernie Sanders came out with a blog post called "It's Global Warming, Stupid" referring to the current language describing Sandy as "Weather on Steroids."
Romney has backed off of his earlier comments about removing Federal Assistance for disasters and giving that responsibility to the states. Hey has now given praise to FEMA, which has not escaped the attention of the press.
Even on Fox New's programming, where climate change deniers have basically free reign, the final word is given to a scientist listing off factors that raised the bar for Sandy from climate change. It is sad that it takes a hurricane to make us remember issues like climate change and that climate change deniers are "denying reality" but the truth of the matter is that there is still a huge lack of foresight regarding climate mitigation and preparation. Programs like FEMA are a national insurance to prepare for these events and we, as a country, will need to invest more heavily as events like these will continue to occur with increasing intensity.