December 30, 2007
Experts say it’s only a matter of time before a major hurricane strikes New York City. When it comes, you may want to have your evacuation plan nearby. If not, meet the fishes.
By Aaron Naparstek
Imagine the following: It’s a beautiful Labor Day weekend. Sunny, cloudless, 80 degrees. Backyard barbecues are fired up all over the metropolitan area, and the beaches of New York City, New Jersey and southern Long Island are jam-packed with bathers. The only sign that something unusual is happening is the relatively big waves rolling up on Coney Island. It’s a surfer’s paradise. Mike Lee isn’t enjoying the long weekend. For the last two weeks, Lee, the Director of Watch Command at New York City’s Office of Emergency Management, has been observing a series of weather systems form off the western coast of Africa, organize themselves into the familiar swirling pattern of tropical storms, and line up like airplanes coming in for a landing on the Caribbean. One of those storms, a category-4 monster hurricane with sustained winds of 140 m.p.h., is violently churning the ocean 350 nautical miles off the coast of Georgia.
A hurricane like this one can usually be counted on to curve eastward and die a harmless death over the Atlantic. But with a large area of high pressure hovering just off the east coast, the computer models at the National Hurricane Center in Miami are largely in agreement: This one is heading north, tracking a direct hit on New Jersey somewhere north of Atlantic City. Like the legendary “Long Island Express” of 1938, the fastest-moving hurricane ever recorded, it’s moving quickly.
In 1821, stunned colonial New Yorkers recorded sea levels rising as fast as 13 feet in a single hour at the Battery. The East River and Hudson Rivers merged over Lower Manhattan all the way to Canal Street. According to Coch, the fact that the 1821 storm struck at low tide “is the only thing that saved the city.”
In the event of a direct hit by a category-3 hurricane, surge maps show that the Holland and Battery Tunnels will be completely filled with sea water, with many subway and railroad tunnels severely flooded as well. The runways of LaGuardia and JFK airports will get flooded by 18.1 and 31.2 feet of water, respectively.
By contrast, Sandy struck at a full moon high tide. The 1821 storm surge would have been at least five feet higher than Sandy – had the tide conditions been the same.