Flooding shows risks to city posed by increasing storm deluges

On July 9th, several inches of rain dropped on parts of New York City Thursday evening, overwhelming the drainage system in those areas, which led to flooding and outflows of sewage into city rivers. The cloudburst, as experts call such brief but intense deluges, is one kind of storm that the city can expect to see more of as climate change makes our weather more severe. And while the city has invested billions to update its infrastructure to avoid the resulting flooding, experts say that the city is still not fully prepared for the damage these storms will bring.

“If there are certain locations that are flooded that have industrial contaminants, those get mobilized as well,” said Andrea Silverman, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at New York University. “It’s like a disgusting, toxic soup, potentially.”

Silverman and fellow NYU engineering assistant professor Elizabeth Hénaff are working on a project to help the city figure out where its needs are greatest in updating infrastructure by creating sensors to install across the city that will monitor flooding in real time. 

“There’s no rigorously collected, quantitative data about the nature, frequency and extent of these events,” Hénaff said.