Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Today's the anniversary of the Great Northeast Hurricane of 1938.

New York City is the third most at risk area for a hurricane disaster in the US, after only New Orleans and Miami?

People sometimes forget that hurricanes can go north too -- those of us who live in the northeast tend to put the risk out of mind -- but the Great Northeast Hurricane of '38 remains the third most deadly in U.S. history, killing more than 700. It's also still about the sixth most costly in history -- even though it tore over areas of Long Island and Connecticut, and then New England, that were generally undeveloped by today's standards.

The loss of life resulted largely from the surprise factor. The storm hit with no warning near literally out of a clear blue sky, in spite of being a Category 5 as it approached and Category 3 at landfall (as Katrina was when it made final landfall on the Louisiana-Mississippi border). People had gotten up and were going around doing their business like it was just another day when the sea and winds suddenly fell upon them.

Of course there were no weather satellites then, and no national weather service as we know it now -- but the risk factor that still exists today is that when hurricanes turn north they start moving faster. And this hurricane remains the fastest moving ever seen, with a forward speed of more than 60 miles an hour that gave it it's unofficial name, the Long Island Express. That speed left precious little time to react to a warning even if there had been one. That storm would've run you down in your Packard as you tried to flee up the Connecticut turnpike.

Here's the story. And here's the part that might give some pause to New Yorkers who tut-tut their Los Angelino friends about earthquakes...
Experts now believe that after Miami and New Orleans, New York City is the third most dangerous major city for the next hurricane disaster. According to a 1990 study by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the city has some unique and potentially lethal features.

New York's major bridges such as the Verrazano Narrows and the George Washington are so high that they would experience hurricane force winds well before those winds were felt at sea-level locations. Therefore, these escape routes would have to be closed well before ground-level bridges ... The ferry services across the Long Island Sound would also be shut down 6-12 hours before the storm surge invaded the waters around Long Island, further decreasing the potential for evacuation.

A storm surge prediction program used by forecasters called SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes) has predicted that in a category 4 hurricane, John F. Kennedy International Airport would be under 20 feet of water and sea water would pour through the Holland and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels and into the city's subways throughout lower Manhattan.

The report did not estimate casualties, but did state that storms "that would present low to moderate hazards in other regions of the country could result in heavy loss of life" in the New York City area...

Given public complacency, the amount of people needed to evacuate, the few evacuation routes off Long Island, and the considerable area affected by storm surge, more lead-time is needed for a proper evacuation than in other parts of the country.

However, east coast hurricanes are normally caught up in the very fast winds aloft, called the jet stream, so they can move up the coast at great speeds - much faster than hurricanes that impact the southern U.S...
... so there'd be less lead time.

OK, so when the next Category 5 'cane starts hurtling up the east coast covering 1,000 miles a day headed for Manhattan, FEMA is planning to get me out if here without using bridges, tunnels or ferries exactly how?

Oh well, I can always think of something worse. (And even find it animated on the web.) It's all only a matter of time...