Just a week after Hurricane Sandy plunged New York and New Jersey into a state of emergency from which they have yet to recover, another storm is on its way. A Nor'easter, and a big, nasty one by the looks of it.
The question on everybody's mind is can these storm-ravaged areas take another one, especially when they are still so far from being recovered.
For you non east-coasters, a Nor'easter is a very large low-pressure system that pushes up from the south and brings strong winds down from the northeast (hence Nor'easter). One of the reasons that Sandy was so deadly is that it was really a combination of multiple storms, one of which was a Nor'easter. Typical features of Nor'easters include high winds, freezing temperatures, and precipitation in the form of rain, snow, or sleet. And yes, they have been known to cause major flooding.
The good news is that this storm isn't another Sandy. The bad news is it could still potentially be very bad, particularly while so many are still trying to recover. It's impossible to predict the exact impacts of a storm until it arrives, but we've talked to some experts and can make some educated guesses.
The latest predictions say that the storm is likely to send a flood of three to four feet on top of the usual tides to New York. Obviously, that's not good, but we're lucky that the tides aren't as high as they were during Sandy last week. (That was partially due to a full moon). The subway is built to handle this level of flooding. As a result, the MTA has not yet announced any potential closures, though they are continuing to monitor the situation closely.
But what about all of the rain? "After the August 8th storm of 2007, we did a review of the impacts to the subways system and railways," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told us. "We put into place a system of raised grates that provide ventilation for subway systems." New Yorkers might have noticed these. Some of them are on cinder blocks, some double as bike racks, but by elevating the vents for the tunnels, it's been able to greatly reduce the amount of rainwater that gets into the system.
At the same time, anyone who lives in NYC knows that service is most definitely not back to 100 percent. Many lines and stations are still undergoing repairs, and Mr. Donovan told us that it's reasonable to expect that the coming storm will further delay service restoration.
We're still not done with autumn, and many trees still have a lot of their leaves. This is a problem; the leaves act as tiny parachutes, catching the wind as it rips through, creating more pressure on the branches and the tree itself. Falling trees took out many power-lines, cars, homes, and people during Sandy.
The silver lining is that Sandy did a lot of pruning already. She stripped a lot of leaves off and already knocked down a lot of the most vulnerable trees. That said, it is likely that Sandy weakened a lot of branches that are now just barely hanging on. As always, it is best to exercise extreme caution near trees during a storm.
This, unfortunately, is going to be a major problem, especially in the areas that were hardest-hit by Sandy and have mountains of rubble lying around. Winds for this Nor'easter are projected to by around 40mph, with gusts between 50 and 60mph. That is strong enough to send stuff flying, including larger items like pieces of siding. This creates a very dangerous situation for people walking around; unfortunately, people who were displaced by Sand have been doing a lot of walking around lately.
Again, there's only supposed to be a three-to-four foot storm surge. Compared to Sandy's record-breaking 13.2-foot surge (in lower Manhattan), that's small potatoes. But in the current situation, this could still be very bad. Not only have equivalent levels caused some flooding to low-lying areas in the past, but we have to remember that Sandy was so powerful that the topography has changed in many areas. Barriers that existed before have been broken or swept away, and there has been a lot of erosion. Because of these new variables, it is impossible to predict how much flooding might occur to the most severely damaged areas. The water won't be as high as it was during Sandy, but it can still certainly do plenty of damage. In other words, we should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
This is, without question, the most dangerous part of the coming storm. Not only does the forecast call for high winds, a lot of rain, and three to six inches of snow (depending where you are), but there will be sustained freezing temperatures. For the thousands upon thousands of people who have lost their homes or have no power in their homes, the is potentially deadly.
We spoke to the Red Cross, who already has over 9,000 people living in their shelters in Sandy-impacted areas. The problem (or one of the problems) is that none of these shelters are on the barrier islands (such as the Rockaways) or Staten Island. They said that they cannot setup in the "most devastated places," though they are patrolling in their vans, distributing food and water, and advising people where the can go. (For a map of all the Red Cross shelters, click here.)
The Red Cross is also sending reinforcements to build up the number of Warming Centers that are in impacted areas. Warming Centers are more temporary than shelters in that they don't offer longer-term stays, but they offer people a place to get out of the cold so they can ride out a storm. Hot drinks and food will be provided as best they can. A list of these and other services can be found here, but again, there is a glaring lack of support in the Rockaways, one of the areas where help is needed most.
The Red Cross is advising that if people can get to a distribution center to get warm coats and blankets, today would be the day to do it before the storm hits. They also stressed that their shelters are not yet filled, and if you need it, you should get there today, as things will be getting very cold. The Red Cross does not have a policy of providing transportation to these shelters, generally, but ask around. The only good thing to come out of this storm is the way people have been bonding together in a crisis. Ask one of the volunteers on the ground. People will find a way to get you to a shelter if you need it.
So, to answer the initial question, yes, of course New York City can and will survive. What we do have to worry about are the people in it, specifically in the areas that were hit hardest by Sandy. If you have winter coats and blankets you were planning on donating this weekend, DO NOT WAIT. Go vote then get that stuff to a distribution center right now, and give what you can do organizations that are helping out. People are desperate out there. Please help however you can.
UPDATE: Official evacuation orders have been given for many coastal areas. The Rockaways in New York, and townships like Brick in New Jersey have already begun evacuation, and there is a flood warning for all coastal areas. Again, because the coastal landscape has been so greatly altered by Sandy, we don't yet know what a four foot surge will do. Be safe.
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Image credit: NOAA.gov