Main | Friday, November 02, 2012

The New York Press Called It

Seven years ago the New York Press made a startlingly accurate prediction of Hurricane Sandy. The piece opens by imagining what kind of storm would most threaten New York City.
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. While no human or computer can ever be completely sure what a hurricane is going to do, this is looking like a worst-case scenario for New York City, the kind of scenario ”that gives emergency managers serious gastrointestinal distress,” says Lee. Because of its counter-clockwise rotation, the right side of a hurricane is the most powerful part of the storm. The right side of this storm is fixing to land a haymaker on New York Harbor. If it makes landfall during high tide, the devastation will be unprecedented.
Which is pretty much exactly what happened. The story concludes by recounting precisely why New York City is so very vulnerable.
New York City’s biggest vulnerability is the most unyielding geology. The New York bight is the right angle formed by Long Island and New Jersey with the city tucked into its apex. “Hurricanes do not like right angles,” Lee says. “[They allow] water to accumulate and pile up.”  Couple this with the fact that New York resides on a very shallow continental shelf, and as a big storm pushes north, New York Harbor “acts as a funnel.” As storm surge forces its way into the harbor and up the rivers, it has nowhere to go but onto land. New York City, it turns out, has some of the highest storm-surge values in the country.  “When we see a category-3 storm making landfall in Florida, it may only have a 12-, 13-foot storm surge,” Lee says. “For us here, a category-1 storm can give us 12 feet of storm surge.”
Hurricane Sandy came ashore at Category 1 and lower Manhattan got exactly the 12-foot storm surge predicted in 2005 by the New York Press.

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