Unique Vulnerability of the
New York & New Jersey Metropolitan
Area to Hurricane Damage
by Nicholas K. Coch

[March 23, 2007]


Online Notes
Unique Vulnerability of the New York & New Jersey
Metropolitan Area to Hurricane Damage

Requires: Adobe Reader

Most people believe that any hurricanes that travel northward make a landfall on Eastern Long Island, and create few problems for people in the N.Y - N.J. Metropolitan Region. However, historical research shows that hurricanes have made direct landfalls in New York City in 1821 and 1993. The Major 1938 Hurricane made a landfall 70 miles to the East, and yet caused significant wind and water damage in New York City. What happened then can help us plan for what to expect when another hurricane inevitably hits this area.

The N.Y.-N.J. region has a unique set of topographic, oceanographic, demographic and geographic characteristics that guarantee maximum damage when a hurricane makes landfall.  For example, historical data show that the landfall of a Category 2 hurricane here produces damage more characteristic of a Category 3 hurricane in the South. The right angle junction of the N.Y. and N.J. coasts, as well as the gentle slope of the continental shelf in Western Long Island, will generate abnormally high storm surge levels. A Category 3 Hurricane will produce storm surge levels of 26+ feet in western Jamaica Bay. These levels are more typical of a Category 5 Hurricane in the South!  The hilly bedrock topography at the shoreline will increase fresh water flooding inland as was demonstrated in Hurricane Floyd (2001). Even a Category 2 Hurricane will create storm surge levels that will flood all major airports, underground transport facilities (railroad and subway tunnels) and create impassable "choke points" across low elevations on all major coastal highways.

Hurricane winds will have a complex interaction with high-rise structures and the degree of surface paving in New York City will decrease lag time and increase street flooding. Salt water flooding will cause great permanent damage to underground power, computer and transportation facilities.  A 20 Minute segment from the Discovery Channel presentation "Hurricane X" will present a scenario for a hurricane landfall in New York City.

The two hundred years of hurricane history have shown us what to expect in a hurricane landfall here. My research suggests that major hurricanes hit the Northeast not every 125 years, but more like every 75-90 years. The last occurrence was the great Long Island - New England Hurricane of 1938 major hurricane hitting one of our urban centers. Hurricane Katrina (2005) showed the scale of damage that can occur when a major hurricane hits near an urban coastal center. Unless we act on what we have learned, the impact of a major hurricane, along the most heavily developed and populated hurricane-prone urban shoreline in America, could have catastrophic consequences!




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