Home MTA Politics Economists say climate change could lead to more subway floods

Economists say climate change could lead to more subway floods

by Benjamin Kabak

When it rains, it pours, especially along the flood-prone Queens Boulevard lines. (Photo by flickr user chrisj)

As the MTA and the City of New York begin the long process of addressing systemic problems that came to light during last week’s subway flood and subsequent system-wide outage, economists studying climate change say New York and other urban areas should brace for more floods in the future.

An article at LiveScience delves into the issues cities with aging infrastructures face as the weather becomes harsher. Andrea Thompson has more:

The likely intensification of extreme weather events from global warming could mean that urbanites have more events like last week’s subway flooding in New York City to look forward to in the future.

The flooding and subsequent paralysis of New York’s subway system—from nearly 1.5 inches of rain falling in just an hour—raised concerns about the subway system’s infrastructure and the fate of the infrastructures of coastal cities worldwide in the face of extreme events that could become more frequent in our warming world.

“This is the kind of thing that we probably will see more of,” said Kathleen Miller, an economist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who studies the effects of climate change on society.

Thompson goes on to detail the problems New York will face as its infrastructure nears the end of its practical life. Ilan Kelman, a postdoc fellow at NCAR, said the city should invest heavily in its infrastructure for the 21st century because the drains and tunnels, some built as early as the mid-1800s, just can’t handle storms of increased intensity.

Of greater concern to me was MTA spokesman Mike Charles’ comments. In response to a question about the MTA’s factoring climate change, Charles told Thompson, “It’s too early to say on that… they’re not ignorant of it, but it’s so speculative at this point.”

Now, I recognize that global warming has somehow become a political issue. It’s damaging to admit that — gasp — the climate is changing and that human actions are largely responsible for the change. But that’s the reality of the situation. The IPCC has long since concluded this, and the evidence is all around us. Right now, the MTA can’t afford to wait on global climate change. If they do, just expect more and more subway flooding until it becomes cost-prohibitive to address the problems.

Someone somewhere needs to step it up in response to global climate change. Can it be the MTA?

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eric the beehivehairdresser August 17, 2007 - 10:28 am

That’s my work stop pictured. Whenever it rains the Manhattan bound staircase landings are always ankle deep with really dirty water. I’m always amazed that the MTA hasn’t just snaked that clogged drain once in the past 4 and a half years.

Also, I believe that Kathleen Miller is slightly incorrect in that we “would probably see more” subway flooding from 1.5 inches of rain in under an hour. We’ve had harsh rains like that for as long as the subway existed without it always flooding. The subway flooding appears as though it is something recent within the past three or so years that has become a problem – whatever happened to the subway drainage system actually draining during a storm?

The MTA should keep better tabs on those who should be cleaning out its drainage system nowadays. Shouldn’t they?


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