Hurricanes Affecting New York City, It’s Happened Before

When you think of Hurricanes you think about the southeast coast of the US and the Gulf of Mexico.  But hurricanes can and do strike further north.  Although rare, hurricanes could cause widespread damage in a major metropolis like New York City.

The AIR Worldwide Corporation lists New York as the 2nd worst place for a hurricane to strike, behind only Miami, Florida.  That’s because the elevation and terrain of New York make it especially vulnerable to catastrophic flooding during and after a hurricane strikes.

Major hurricanes actually strike New York City about once every 90 years, the last occurring in 1938.  That’s when a category 3 storm made landfall on Long Island, killing as many as 800 and damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes. 

On the flip side, another Hurricane hit the area in 1985.  Although the weakest of hurricanes, the damage was still substantial but not nearly as widespread.  The biggest concern for the city of course is flooding and a stronger hurricane would certainly produce a storm surge that could cripple New York.

023213W5_NL_smTalk of New York and hurricanes has come up recently thanks to Hurricane Earl. The storm is expected to turn north towards the east coast as a category 2 or 3 hurricane.  With many days of travel for the storm, it’s impossible to nail down an exact path.  As you can see in the graphic to the left, the current forecast keeps the storm east of the East Coast.  But that hatched out area surrounding the main line represents the cone of uncertainty.  There a number of uncertainties regarding its path, leaving the greater New York area with a 10%-20% chance of experiencing at least tropical storm strength winds. 

Although not as severe, such an event would still cause major problems for the city.  Widespread power outages and the threat of disrupted mass transit.  Fortunately flooding might not be a serious threat for most areas because the center of the storm should stay far enough east of the city.  But again I want to stress the exact track of the storm is subject to change over the coming week.  It could bring it closer to New York, or far enough away to cause little or no problems at all.

If there’s anything to be learned on this, the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is that it’s never too soon to prepare.  Sure the chances are this storm won’t be a serious problem.  But whenever the threat presents itself, especially for an area where few remember the last hurricane to strike, it’s best to stay tuned to any new developments over the coming week.

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