Finally -- and most urgently -- storm surges are rising on top of higher sea levels, so more coastline floods during storms. That's critical because storm surge is often far more damaging than high winds -- and because more than half of all Americans live within 50 miles of the coast.
Why are seas rising? Climate change is the driving force. In the northeastern United States, sea levels are rising three to four times faster than the global average, putting major U.S. cities at increased risk of flooding, according to a recent study in Nature Climate Change. The West Coast isn't immune: Most of California could experience three or more feet of sea-level rise this century.
What can we do? The bottom line: We have to reduce carbon emissions -- and quickly. We already have a law -- the Clean Air Act -- that could be a powerful weapon in that battle. The Environmental Protection Agency has begun using the law to fight greenhouse gas pollution, but progress has been painfully slow.
When it comes to climate change, we've been acting like the proverbial man with the leaky roof. When it's raining, we're too focused on the weather to fix the problem. And when the storm moves on, so does our attention.
But kicking this problem down the road is no longer an option. A recent report from the highly respected International Energy Agency made it clear that we are running out of time to cut carbon pollution and avert climate change's worst impacts.
Hurricane Sandy underscores the risks we face. This problem can be solved -- but only if we treat global warming like the emergency it truly is.
Wolf is climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, biologicaldiversity.org.