It has been two years since Hurricane Floyd, or what was left of it brought the heavy rains to parts of New Jersey, and despite warnings by forecasters that we are entering a period of increased hurricane activity, many people in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut don't really think a hurricane can happen here.
There are projects occurring around the region such as FEMA's Project Impact in places such as Freeport, Long Island, which has impacted greatly on building homes and businesses there. Nevertheless, there is still a great potential for disaster in this region if the right situation comes along since New York makes a right angle with the New Jersey coast.
What is really important to realize here is that a major hurricane has happened here in the past, and will occur again. The one thing is for sure, it will not be a question of if, but when. That brings to question whether or not the tri-state area, is prepared for a major hurricane.
According to a study done in 1996 (Hughes), approximately 78.5% of current residents in New York have not experienced a major hurricane, or even a lesser hurricane for that matter. That is because a major hurricane hasn't hit in this region in some 63 years since the Long Island Express of 1938.
Nevertheless, there have been past episodes of major hurricanes in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. As a matter of fact, such an event has occurred once every 80 years or so. When we talked about the state of preparedness in New Jersey, we had mentioned how the unique geography sort of helped in keeping many hurricanes away.
The fact that the United States coastline turns inward after bulging out around Cape Hatteras along with the presence of the westerlies makes it difficult for a major hurricane to reach the tri-state region. However, if and when such a storm does make it this far there is a possibility that it could inflict tremendous damage if it can make landfall in the right location.
That is because New York and New Jersey meet at a right angle, and that in turn, could potentially lead to very devastating and deadly storm tides, particularly, if a landfalling hurricane would coincide with high tide. Finally, and most importantly, according to the United States Geological Survey, there is a 71% probability of a major hurricane that will cause 1,000 deaths within the next 20 years.
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One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in trying to raise hurricane awareness and in turn improve hurricane preparedness in the tri-state region is public complacency. Approximately 78.5% of residents that live in coastal New York, which includes New York City as well as the entire stretch of Long Island.
This is quite dangerous because there has been a tremendous build up throughout Long Island, which will be a much more densely populated region when the next major hurricane comes a calling. In addition, you have a very densely populated New Jersey coastline as well.
Not only does this build up present a problem in terms of damage, but also in terms of potential loss of life since the tri-state area can be a very congested region during a normal rush hour so adding the drama of a landfalling major hurricane, and the congestion could skyrocket.
As you can see, there is quite a recipe for disaster here in the tri-state area. The biggest tool we have other than the technological advances in meteorology over the past 50 to 100 years, is education the general public about a threat, and convincing them that a major hurricane can happen here.
There must be a campaign to reach out to the people with all the information we have available in its various forms such as printed flyers and brochures, public forums, television, radio, and even the web.
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In 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated much of South Florida, which had not seen a major hurricane of Andrew's caliber in some 27 years despite the geographic location of South Florida. This had left many South Floridians unprepared for Andrew, and it showed.
The most powerful storm of the 1992 season ended up being the most costliest hurricane ever as Andrew caused some $27 billion dollars in damage. One of the lasting impacts of Hurricane Andrew is the level of preparedness Floridians now take when a hurricane threatens their area. In addition, South Florida now has the strictest building codes in the entire country.
Will the tri-state region learn from these lessons? This remains to be seen. There seems to be a very apathetic feeling toward the possibility of such a disaster. Most New Yorkers and New Jerseyans as well as some in Connecticut think that a major hurricane can hit here. The last major hurricanes to really make an impact over the Northeast were the Long Island Express of 1938, which killed some 600 people, and the 1944 Hurricane which left another 390 people dead.
There have also been several devastating hurricanes in years preceding these two in 1635, 1815, 1821 and 1893. Looking at those facts along with storm data on the last 20 hurricanes that have impacted the tri-state region, a major hurricane strikes every 80 years or so. We've also had close calls with Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Hurricane Bob in 1991, but these storms mild impacts may have given residents of this region a false sense of security.
So, many generations of people in the tri-state region including 78.5 percent of all New Yorkers have never experienced a major hurricane. One thing we must consider is that those two storms killed that many people at a time when places such as Long Island were not as heavily populated as it is today.
In addition, forecasting is still very difficult despite the progress that has been made over the years. Even the recently developed seasonal forecasts have not been able to effectively assist emergency management and disaster planning officials because the predictions are not detailed enough to give them a good idea of how to prepare.
However, seasonal forecasting is a helpful tool in the sense that it gives people in vulnerable ideas of what's going to happen so that they can make the necessary preparations to protect themselves and their possessions. There are also long term forecasts, which indicate that there will be an increased number of major hurricanes over the next 20 to 30 years.
This is at the same time that population growth is expected to continue to grow in New York and New Jersey, which adds to the problem. Knowing that this area handled such storms as the Blizzard of '96, and the strong Winter Storm that ended the year 2000, there is hope that we will be prepared if and when a major hurricane comes a calling.
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