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Surging storms: Can the US adapt in time to avert coastal damage?

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A hot spot for rising sea level

Meanwhile, USGS researchers identify the coastline from Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, N.C., as a "unique" hot spot for sea level rise. Rates of sea level rise there are three to four times the global average, even after taking changes in land elevation into account, according to their recent study.

For New York City, in particular, a one-meter sea level rise, coupled with hurricanes that are more intense and more frequent, could by the end of the century turn a once-in-100-year-average surge flood, such as Sandy delivered, to once in three to 20 years, states a study published in February by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton University.

That estimate is only the latest to underscore the need to adapt to greater threat of flooding due to surges from coastal storms, as well as from other extreme events.

"We're doing a bad job of living on a planet that does its business by extreme events," says William Hooke, director of the policy program at the American Meteorological Society, based in Boston.

Pre-storm forecasting and post-storm emergency responses are getting better. "We're mastering that," he says. "But we should be spending an equal amount of time on trying to reduce the need for that emergency response in the first place."

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