You may not yet have heard yet, but Hurricane Irene is shaping up to be a major disaster for New York City, Long Island, and the rest of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Weather experts are forecasting a major storm surge that will bring torrential rains, gusting winds and flash floods to New York by Sunday. New York Governor Cuomo has declared a state of emergency, but his statement is slim on details and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service website has only a rip current warning in place for New York currently.
Instead of passing offshore like yesterday's forecasts predicted, the storm looks like it will track northeast, barreling through New England with a likely direct hit in New York City and on Long Island. If the storm stays on its current trajectory, which is very likely, said Bryan Norcross, a hurricane specialist with The Weather Channel, New York City and Manhattan will suffer a direct hit.
Experts say there's a small chance that Irene will still be a hurricane when it hits Manhattan, and that it will likely have been demoted to a tropical storm by then. If that eases your mind, it shouldn't. Regardless of the storm's official title, Norcross suggests preparing for the worst if you're in the Northeast.
That's because hurricanes don't have to be as strong in the north as in other parts of the country to do a lot of damage. "The way the barrier islands are set up is not in some senses hurricane ready. Trees snap more easily and more bad things happen," Norcross said. "Also, the denser the population, the more bad things happen."
Evacuations have already been ordered in Cape May and other parts of New Jersey and officials will likely order them in New York as well. If that happens, it would be the "largest urban evacuation in U.S. history," said Jerry Mitchell, a hurricane expert in the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina. "With a lot of people who would have no clue what to do, where to go, and a whole lot more that would ignore even a mandatory evacuation because they think they'll be safe."
We hope the storm won't rival the Long Island Express hurricane of 1938, which was category 3 when it touched down on Long Island and the worst storm the area has seen. It killed up to 800 people and caused $4 billion in damage.
Currently Irene is a major category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 mph moving currently moving through the Northwest Bahamas. The storm is now centered about 610 miles south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and moving north by northwest at 14 mph.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano put out a press release that he "can't stress enough for residents in barrier island communities to be prepared to leave." There are 400,000 people in the county, and Mangano said he's coordinating with Suffolk county and NYC. But there's no sign of that information in the news section of county's website.
The thought of New York City's 8 million residents attempting to evacuate is a terrifying prospect, but University of North Carolina's Jerry Mitchell has some advice:
"If that goes down, have fun watching."
Photo courtesy NASA