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Hypothetical Hurricane Scenario (Category 5 hurricane in New York City)

Updated on September 16, 2017

What is a Hurricane?

A hurricane is any tropical cyclone in the Atlantic and East Pacific that reaches a minimum wind speed of 74 mph. Hurricanes usually need between 5 and 10 mph of wind shear, and water temperatures of at least 82 degrees in order to maintain hurricane intensity, although there are exceptions to the rule.

Hurricane Season

The Atlantic Hurricane season usually starts Junes 1 and end November 30. The peak of the hurricane season is around September 10 or 11. There have been tropical storms in every calendar month, including January and February. The most recent January Hurricane (as of 2016) is Hurricane Alex.

Alex formed from an extratropical low-pressure system and became a subtropical storm over water temperatures of 72-73 degrees, which was 3 degrees above normal. It then strengthened into a hurricane on January 14 and made landfall on the Azores as a tropical storm before becoming extratropical.

The most recent February tropical storm is the groundhog day storm of 1952. It formed on February 1 and made landfall in southwestern Florida. It passed over Miami, where it caused moderate damage to buildings. The most recent March system is the 1908 Hurricane, as it moved in a Southwesterly direction in the Caribbean. The most recent April system was Tropical storm Arlene, forming east of Bermuda on April 17, 2017

The most recent May system was tropical storm Bonnie, which made landfall in South Carolina in May 2016

Hurricane Sandy (Documentary)

1938 Long Island Hurricane (1976 Documentary)

Hurricane sandy as she barrels down the Eastern Seaboard
Hurricane sandy as she barrels down the Eastern Seaboard
1938 Long Island Hurricane Battering shoreline
1938 Long Island Hurricane Battering shoreline

1938 Long Island Hurricane Track

The best-track data for the 1938 Long Island Hurricane
The best-track data for the 1938 Long Island Hurricane

New York City Hurricanes

Since 1680, there were less than 15 known hurricanes that affected new York. The most famous one was the 1821 New York Hurricane, which caused widespread devastation. Then There's the 1869 hurricane, which destroyed a lot of buildings in New England. The Most recent hurricane to strike New York was the 1938 Long Island Express, which destroyed a large part of Long Island and sent a 17-foot storm surge into Providence, RI. Boston was also affected by the hurricane. There were reports of downed trees and homes there. The hurricane missed New York by just over 100 miles to its east.

Then There's Hurricane Bob in 1991, which mostly affected the northern New England coast. It destroyed a lot of buildings there. The largest storm to threaten New York was Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. Sandy was a hybrid storm after crossing the Bahamas and began morphing into a Tropical Nor'easter, with all the hallmarks of a blizzard and a hurricane, after Sandy began colliding with an arctic low pressure system.

When the storm hit New Jersey, It affected New York with its thousand-mile-wide size and it flooded the subway and sewage system with saltwater. Parts of Lower Manhattan were inundated with 5-6 feet of saltwater. The storm tide exceeded 13 feet in some places. Hurricane Sandy sparked two 6-alarm fires in Breezy Point, NY.

When the damage was all done, New York was devastated by a massive debris field. The hurricane claimed over 20 lives, and damage estimates put it at over $68 billion. Although Sandy was the worst case storm, it wasn't the worst case track. It was only a Category 1 when it affected New York. The next monster storm could eclipse that of Sandy or the 1938 Long Island Express. Experts warn that a new monster could lurk in the footsteps of those past hurricanes.

Hypothetical Hurricane Harold
Hypothetical Hurricane Harold
Hurricane Harold Striking New York and New Jersey
Hurricane Harold Striking New York and New Jersey
Hurricane Harold Striking the Northeast
Hurricane Harold Striking the Northeast
Hurricane Harold Striking Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Harold Striking Puerto Rico.

Hypothetical Hurricane Scenario

It's the last week of August, and the National Hurricane Center Gives a tropical wave off the coast of Africa a 40% chance that it will develop into a tropical depression in 2 days and a 90% chance of developing into a tropical depression in the next 5 days. Over the next 3 days, the wave moves slowly westward, and the wave becomes a depression.

The depression soon becomes a storm and The National Hurricane Center christens it Harold. By September 6, Harold enters an area of explosive intensification, and he becomes a hurricane with winds of 100 mph while bearing down near Puerto Rico.

The area sustains heavy damage and receives over 10 inches of rain from that system. Then, the hurricane accelerates towards the Northeast, steered by the Bermuda High, towards the Bahamas, as a Category 4 hurricane. At that time, the projected path was for Harold to move into West Palm Beach as a Category 5 and into the Gulf of Mexico and hit Galveston as a Category 4. A twist in the weather pattern over the United States meant that Harold was getting pulled Northward by a trough of low pressure.

Despite that, Harold intensifies into a Category 5 just north of 23 N and just 18 nautical miles from the exact Longitude of New York City. The trough started pulling Harold Northward with increasing speed, meaning that he is now moving almost due northwards at 45 mph. Residents in New York City and neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut and Rhode Island begin a massive evacuation plan. That only delays the inevitable.

Harold would come barreling ashore New Jersey within 2 days. That night, Harold almost doubles in size, but maintains its intensity. Harold is now a 450-mile-wide monster, with winds of 190 mph and a pressure of 893 millibars. By that time, it is at 35 N and 17 nautical miles west of the exact Longitude of New York City. By 10 PM, New York City was already being affected by tropical storm winds. By September 13 12 AM, Parts of Manhattan was already under 4 feet of storm surge flooding, and the main storm surge hasn't pulled in. By 3 AM, The Hurricane is 130 miles south of New York City, and only getting closer.

New York City soon finds itself with winds of Category 3 strength, and a storm surge of 19 feet. Parts of Long Island soon becomes inundated with over 20 feet of storm surge. Most buildings in Long Island don't survive Category 3 winds because they don't see Category 3 hurricanes very often, so they get destroyed by the hurricane. At 4 AM, even the Statue of Liberty is no match for the Cat 4 winds generated by Harold.

By 4:30 AM, Iconic structures like the Empire State Building begin to fail and come crashing down to the ground. By 5:00 AM, the Freedom Tower begins to sustain damage, but due to its reinforced concrete and the design of the building, it remains intact. By 5:45 AM, The strongest part of Harold comes crashing ashore, delivering 175 mph winds to the Big Apple.

85 % of the buildings are destroyed. Then, at exactly 6:13 AM, all is silent. The Eye is here. What remains is more reminiscent of a disaster film. Over 90% of the city's financial district is in ruins. New York City remains in the eye for just under 32 minutes, at which point, the hurricane winds reverse direction. 165 mph winds from the Northwest are reported, as opposed to 175 mph winds from the Southeast before the eye visited New York City. New York City endures diminishing winds for 6 more hours as Harold quickly weakens to a Cat 2 while in Vermont. When the storm is finally over at 3:45 PM, the first scenes out of New York City are just surreal to watch.

You've got cars blown and twisted away from their lots. You've got buildings destroyed by the wind and storm surge. You've got power poles down and transformers down. All across New England, more than 100 people die, and estimated losses could top $800 billion. Most importantly, the economic hub of America is irreversibly damaged and it could take many decades, even close to 120 years to recover from that storm. In the ensuing aftermath, the economy plunges by 76% within hours. The ripple effect across the world takes hold soon after. Stock markets plummet, and a worldwide calamity ensues in the weeks after the event.

Food prices skyrocket. Gas prices skyrocket as well. Back in New York City, the subways are permanently closed, and the sewage system backs up. Central Park is deemed a disaster zone, and residents who evacuated the city days prior return to find complete devastation, with some people reported missing family members. Soon, reports of death soon envelops the world as New York City is deemed the next Katrina-like disaster zone.

Link Between Hurricanes and Global Warming (Climate Change)

As of this writing, this year is the hottest year on record, eclipsing 2015's record by over 0.12 degrees Fahrenheit. A supercharged El Nino is to blame around the planet, and the aftereffects are widespread. It is true that Hurricanes tend to be more powerful when wind shear and ocean temperatures are ideal for development, but did you actually know that a warmer planet might mean that hurricanes that come to New York once every 80 years will now come to New York once every 50. A once-in-a-century storm in New York will now come once every 15 years thanks to climate change. Nor'easters might become more common in New York, and hybrids might be the new reality in New York. It's also shown that hurricanes have reached over 200 mph before. Hurricane Patricia of 2015 reached Category 5 intensity and had wind speeds to 215 mph.

Even then, no Category 5 hurricane has ever penetrated farther north than 30.5 N because of cooler water below. For a Category 5 hurricane to penetrate to the latitude of New York, average global temperatures must rise by over twelve degrees Celsius above today's levels, which will send average summertime temperatures in New York well over 108 degrees, but the problem will be that New York will be flooded by over 45 meters of sea level rise. Basically, what you would see is the entire Eastern and coastal areas of the United States underwater.

How to survive a Hurricane

OK. If you want to survive a hurricane, you're going to follow these simple steps

  1. Buy 1 gallon of water per person per day for 3 days or more. (4x3x3)=36 A family of 4 might need 36 gallons of water for 3 days or more. Depending on the severity of the cyclone, you might need to buy more than 85 gallons of water for 3 weeks or more.
  2. Get a NOAA Hand cranked radio or battery powered radio
  3. Get several flashlights, as these can be handy in case you're in a dark room
  4. Get a week's supply of prescription medicine if you are taking any
  5. Get all your documents and seal it with a waterproof sealant
  6. Get Non-Perishable food and have enough food to feed a whole family for 3 weeks or more

That's basically the tips needed to survive a hurricane.


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