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Study: Storms Like Hurricane Sandy Could Hit Tri-State Area More Frequently

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- For many people in the Tri-State area, it's hard to imagine a repeat of Superstorm Sandy and the flooding that followed, but a new study suggests it could happen again.

From the Jersey Shore to Connecticut, few coastal communities were spared by the floodwaters in 2012, and New York City was no exception.

"It was absolutely horrifying," Tribeca resident Tara Reilly said. "We had no power, we basically had to evacuate. Having lived through 9/11, being down here again during something traumatic like that was scary."

A team of researchers created a computer model that predicts the likelihood of other Sandy-like flood events in New York City, and the findings are alarming, CBS2's Elise Finch reported.

"Events like Hurricane Sandy, which currently occur approximately every 400 years -- the frequency that those events will occur may be as much as once every 20 years," Benjamin Horton, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, said.

Horton said the primary reason for the dramatic increase is rising sea levels.

"Sea levels will rise in the 21st century because we're increasing our atmospheric temperatures, which are causing our oceans to expand and our ice sheets to melt," he said. "Quite simply, if you increase atmospheric air temperatures, you increase ocean temperatures."

"Oceans are the heat sources for hurricanes, so a warmer ocean means more intense hurricanes and also a potential increase in their frequency," he explained.

Those findings apply to New York City and the entire Tri-State area.

"I had no idea that we could be facing this again, but I hope we don't," Bronx resident Frank Bucello said.

"I think we're in trouble if that's what they're speaking of," Brick resident Rob Severini said. "I lived in Union Beach when the storm hit, I lost where I lived and it was devastating."

Researchers hope their findings will motivate people to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to both plan and build better coastal protection structures.

The study found that intense storms and flooding could increase anywhere from three to 17 times their current frequency. The increase will be determined by sea-surface temperatures over the next few decades.

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