If you’ve turned on the TV or opened the newspaper in the past few days, you’ve probably heard of a little storm named Irene. Correction: a massive Category 2 hurricane named Irene that is barreling towards the East Coast and expected to slam into North Carolina tomorrow afternoon. The 750 mile wide storm is a particularly slow moving hurricane, and New York City is preparing for Irene to hit early Sunday morning as a Category 1 with winds up to 90 mph. Some forecasters think it may even hit us as a stronger Category 2 storm. All of the 5 boroughs are in a state of emergency; Coney Island, the Rockaways, Battery Park City, and parts of Long Island have all been evacuated; and the MTA is prepared to shut down the entire transportation system. The storm is being called a “once in 50-year hurricane” for the Northeast.
Because Irene is slow moving, authorities are concerned about how long the storm will linger over cities. Irene is expected to move 15-20 mph up the coast while a typical storm usually moves 20-25 mph. “One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast Coast,” Max Mayfield, the former chief of the National Hurricane Center, told ABC News. “This is going to have an impact on the United States economy.” FEMA is preparing for billions of dollars worth of damage.
New York’s skyscrapers are built to withstand hurricane strength winds, but it’s the flooding that will be a problem — our ancient combine sewer system will most definitely overflow. In the major hurricane of 1821, all of Lower Manhattan was under 13 feet of water. But in the beach front properties in Long Island, Brooklyn, and Queens, more structural damage could occur because building New York coastal homes with hurricane reinforcements is not as common a practice like it is in Florida and other southern states.
The MTA has taken the unprecedented move of putting its hurricane emergency plan in action, which means that the entire system — subways, trains, and buses — will be shut down if winds reach 39mph. This is expected to occur late Saturday, so don’t plan on going anywhere. MTA Chairman Jay Walder said that this is the first time the MTA has ever considered a complete shutdown because of the weather.
Like all storms, Hurricane Irene’s path and strength can not be pinpointed, and there is a chance that the eye may fall directly on New York City. FEMA and Homeland Security are preparing for a variety of situations. More than 70 million people live in Irene’s path. “We’ve got a lot more people that are potentially in the path of this storm,” FEMA Director Craig Fugate told the Associated Press. “This is one of the largest populations that will be impacted by one storm at one time. A little bit of damage over big areas with large populations can add up fast.”
Lead image via NASA