Could It Happen Again Tomorrow? Understanding The 100 Year Storm as the 1% Probability Storm

The natural world can be merciless. If we did not before, we now see clearly and feel viscerally the obvious risks of life on a Barrier Island. These risks are well documented and well known, despite the generational complacency that comes from nature’s long, quiet stretches where the risks fade into the background and our assumptions grow deep roots leading us to believe that tomorrow will be just like yesterday.

When I first decided to buy a home on LBI I asked my Grandma what she thought. “Oh honey, you don’t want to do that,” she stated confidently. “It will wash away.” The fact that every single person I  told this to said she was nuts and living in the past made me sure she was right.

Hurricane Sandy is being correctly identified as LBI’s 100 Year Storm. A common (mis) understanding of this term is that we have one of these storms every 100 years. While that is kind of “true”, it is misleading and not mathematically accurate. You might think it means we’re now safe for another 100 years. The truth is, the “100 Year Storm” has nothing to do with how many years between storms, and everything to do with the chance of having a storm like Sandy in any given year.

The 100 Year Storm is better understood as the 1% probability storm. What this means is that on any given year there is a 1% chance LBI will see a storm like Sandy. This same concept is applied to floods and rainfall, and 100 flood plains and maps are a common way of understanding flood risks in a given area.

Don’t get me wrong… there is an inverse correlation here. If there is a 1% chance every year, then the probability of getting one storm like Sandy on Long Beach Island every 100 years is logically probable. But each year the actual chance is the same: 1%. It’s like playing slots… just because you lost the last spin, the odds are no better that you will win the next one. The odds are the same each time. But if you strike out 100 times in a row, then the odds that your 1% chance will hit become overwhelming, because you would now be defying the odds that you would hit at least 1 in 100 on a 1% probability.

Even the most amateur meteorologist has been warning that we (NJ/NY) were statistically overdue for a storm like Sandy. Go ahead and Google “is NYC overdue for a hurricane” and read the words of the prophets. There have been dramatic, full length documentaries on the Discovery Channel detailing the potential disaster, always ending with the fear-inducing “It’s not a question of if… but when!”, probably using the phrase “overdue” at least 100 times.

So the conclusion is twofold. There is a 1% chance we’ll have another Sandy next year and we got our storm when the math said it was extremely likely. In other words, so far, this is “normal”.

When confronted with disaster, it is a natural human reaction to find something blame… something to direct frustration and anger at. Already we’re seeing doom-and-gloom articles citing this catastrophe as hard evidence of Global Warming. We’ve even had a commenter try to explain how this storm was made by the government using weather control technology.  I’m not going to say anything about Global Warming theories or argue either side of it. But for clarity, there is absolutely nothing abnormal about Sandy and in fact, she is right in line with the math and science.

If she is evidence of anything, she is evidence that nature keeps a profoundly tidy schedule.

Weather Control and Global Warming may in fact be very real. But Sandy is not evidence of either. She is just an event that has a 1% chance of occurring on LBI every single year, and therefore, has a good chance of occurring at least once every 100 years.

I wish the odds were different, but I’ll take them anyway. The magic of LBI is worth the risk.

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