Well, we’ve been talking about it and preparing ever since Mayor Bloomberg decided to devote millions of dollars to his plaNYC initiatives in 2007. An actual serious emergency that could require evacuation of millions from low-lying areas of New York City.
Mother Nature is playing her part, and she’s being a real diva about it! As an opening act, she served us over 7 inches of rain last week that super-saturated the soil. That’s an unusually abundant rainfall for this part of the planet…
Then, that 5.8 earthquake rattled the entire East Coast at 1:51 p.m. on Tuesday, August 23, with smaller aftershocks (in the 3.0 range) continuing on Wednesday and early this morning. We have not experienced such a strong quake here in over 100 years.
Now that the backup performers are off the stage (but don’t forget, their effects can linger), the spotlight’s on Hurricane Irene, which may stop by the city on Sunday morning for a visit. Oh well, we ARE doing everything to encourage tourism, aren’t we? Like good locals, we hope Irene does not turn into a nasty “down for the day” visitor. Please mind your manners and go somewhere way out on Long Island if you decide to stop. We hear the Hamptons are great this time of year!
Let’s not forget about the additional parts of the ensemble booked for us by the forces of nature. This Sunday, the Moon and Sun are aligned on the same side of the Earth, so we have a “new” moon. At those times, the gravitational pull of the sun adds to that of the Moon, causing maximum tides.
Given these chance occurrences, there is the potential for significant coastal flooding from the expected storm surge this weekend (even if Irene is downgraded to a tropical storm, or only grazes us). The ground is quite saturated from last week’s rain, and that means the bay is full, as well. The excess water in this storm is going to flood the streets of Rockaway quite badly, I predict. That means the evacuation routes will be flooded, too. It happened in 1991 during the “Halloween Nor’easter.” It happened again in 1992 during the big, early-December, Nor’easter. If you don’t have insurance coverage for damage to your vehicle, better move it to higher ground. And in this case, I don’t think that the center median on Cross Bay Boulevard in Broad Channel will do! Another good place NOT to park your car is in front of PS 106 in Far Rockaway, notorious as the lowest ground on the peninsula.
As if all of this were not enough to worry about, we’ve got that knotty, unknown detail of unprecedented seismic activities coinciding with the storm. How many times do you get a hurricane preceded by an earthquake? Those of us who experienced Hurricane Gloria in September 1985 will remember that a surprising, early-morning Saturday earthquake followed it, in October. The order has been reversed in 2011.
At the risk of being tagged the “Chicken Little” of the Northeast, I’m really concerned about these natural occurrences. I’m no scientist, but I have read up on this subject in some depth. I fear that additional dangers are being dismissed, because nobody wants to alarm us about the risk of tsunami waves. The mainstream media doesn’t cover these issues in much depth, and the word limits of such social media vehicles as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr almost ensure the spread of superficial, conclusory rumors. I think prudent people who live in coastal areas need to be aware of all the risks so they can intelligently assess the situation and make appropriate plans and preparations.
To learn more about this subject, I highly recommend that readers take a look at the webpage of the National Weather Service office in Philadelphia/Mt. Holly. Here’s the address: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/phi/reports/tsunami.htm
This document contains a lot of historical data on various significant weather events, including the September 21, 1938 hurricane known as the “Long Island Express.” That storm tracked due north along the Jersey coast, striking Long Island at mid-afternoon, after torrential rains had super-saturated the soil during the previous week. The storm then moved quickly into New England. After the storm was long gone, at 5:30 p.m., three waves in excess of between 30-50 feet washed over the coast of New Jersey, passing completely over the barrier islands and causing major destructive damage and loss of life. Since the storm had been gone for some time, people in New Jersey had begun to walk out near the shore to assess the damage, which added to the casualties.
In addition to the outside risk that we will experience catastrophic waves as the storm system plays out, another factor to be considered is the geology of the coastline. There is a real risk that portions of the battered undersea shelf could break off in the face of a 100-year storm’s arrival. Scientists from Woods Hole and Lamont Doherty recently studied the underwater canyons off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina and released a report that concluded that there were large, unstable, depressions in the ocean floor associated with previous natural gas eruptions. Here is the link to a summary of their findings: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2000/05/02/tech/main191003.shtml
If you research this a bit further, you will find, as I did, that highly porous layers of rock have been noted off the Jersey shore, as well. Because battering and breaking of such unstable geologic structures could generate a significant wave quite quickly, our present warning systems are inadequate to protect residents of the coast. This adds an additional risk factor to the equation.
I’ve got my “Go Bag” packed already. Those who don’t know what I’m talking about can find out the details on how to prepare at http://www.nyc.gov. Sign up for the text alerts that will be issued if evacuation is ordered. Oh, and if you drive to Aqueduct as the evacuation signs on the peninsula direct, you will be bused to another location, according to today’s news reports. It’s much better to find a friend or relative who can house you.
One last reminder–when you drive over the bridge to evacuate, be sure you pay your toll!
Text copyright Vivian R. Carter 2011.