Friday, August 26, 2011

NYC Metro Area Continues Preparing For Hurricane Irene; Unprecedented Mandatory Evacuations From A Zones

If you go by headlines alone, we're talking the apocalypse, but the NWS and other actual weather forecasts are showing a somewhat more tempered approach.

Yes, we're going to get hammered with a lot of rain - most areas around here should expect 4-8 inches, with some areas seeing 12+, which will cause flooding and the usual areas are likely to flood. Some storm tracks are pushing the storm well inland - GFDL for example - which would reduce wind speeds, but increase the rain totals and flooding (that would put it in the Hurricane Floyd situation locally). Most of the others are putting the storm to hug the coast - meaning that Long Island is in the bullseye. The consensus model track has the eye of the storm essentially coming in directly over New York City - so areas to the North and East of the eye will see heaviest damage (strongest rains, winds, and storm surge). That means the Rockaways, Long Beach, Atlantic Beach, Lido Beach, down through Jones Beach and the barrier islands under the gun.

NYC has issued notifications to nursing homes and hospitals in A zones to evacuate patients and otherwise prepare for shutdown to avoid being caught with patients during the height of the storm. Residents in those A zones are also being told to seek higher ground.

NYC has canceled or postponed numerous weekend events due to Irene, including US Open tennis tournament, Yankees/Orioles game, and the Dave Matthews Band shows on Governors Island.

The City is preparing for the storm as though it could be a major catastrophe, and that's the right call; a direct hit with the strongest tidal surges and strongest winds could result in multibillion dollars worth of damage and the potential for mass casualties. Nate Silver runs the numbers on potential damage depending on the strength of the storm and its proximity to Manhattan.

It's one reason that the City is taking no chances, and putting lessons learned from the botched blizzard response to good use. They're going to make sure that transit is secure and out of flood prone areas and preparing for a systemwide shutdown once winds reach tropical storm strength (39+ mph).

BTW, would it be a bad time to point out that the NYC government website is down (probably b/c of traffic).

502 Bad Gateway
The requested URL could not be retrieved

Meanwhile, the NYC MTA has gone to a stripped down page for hurricane information. That's the way to do it.

New York and New Jersey have already issued states of emergency, activating the National Guard and preparing for the worst case scenario; it also enables the states to call upon federal resources and obtain disaster declarations faster (another lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast response).

Some Jersey Shore communities have issued mandatory evacuations, including Long Beach. Everyone is keeping an eye on already saturated ground and rivers and streams that could flood across Northern New Jersey.

For the latest on Irene from a professional perspective, see Dr. Masters' blog.

Apparently the City's storm preparations haven't included shoring up sandbags and the beach along the Belt Parkway at Plumb Beach. This stretch, where the Atlantic Ocean pushes towards Jamaica Bay is prone to erosion, and if the storm surge is as expected, the Belt Parkway - a major arterial highway could suffer significant damage.

Also, here's hoping that the Port Authority has stashed emergency generators and pumps to be able to keep Ground Zero dry - or at least capable of pumping out expected flood waters. The site isn't completely waterproofed, and much of the museum is below street level, increasing the chances for flooding.

The NYC MTA is officially shutting down its transit system at noon on Saturday to prep for the storm. This includes buses, subways, LIRR, and Metro North. It will be sending its equipment to shelter at higher points along their respective systems, in bus yards, etc.

The transit system will take several hours to completely shut down - buses/trains will begin their final run at noon, which means that events like the Mets-Braves (possibly moved up to 1pm) should be canceled in light of lack of transit options. Other events are already canceled or rescheduled.

Airlines are already cancelling flights into the Northeast, and JetBlue has moved to cancel flights into its NYC hubs and more than 400 across the Northeast and New England.

The US Navy is moving ships out to sea to weather the storm from its ports in Norfolk, VA and New London, CT.

The Garden State Parkway will close to southbound traffic from Exit 98 to its southern terminus, beginning at 8pm tonight. Other roads are expected to be turned into outbound only routes to accommodate evacuations from shore communities to higher ground. Shore communities are also dealing with evacuations of nursing homes and similar facilities as per their evacuation plans.

NY Governor Cuomo orders NYC bridges to shut down if winds exceed 60 MPH, including the George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges - Reuters. It also means that if you're on Staten Island and plan on evacuating to the mainland, you'd best be doing so today or early tomorrow at the latest.

Mayor Bloomberg has ordered mandatory evacuations from A zones in NYC; those would be low-lying areas including Battery Park City in Manhattan, parts of Southern Brooklyn, Rockaway Queens, and Southern Staten Island. This is an unprecedented move by New York City's emergency officials.

In light of the city's shutdown and evacuations, the NY Mets have finally decided to cancel the weekend games: The Saturday game will be part of a doubleheader on the 10th, but no makeup date has been given for the Sunday game. Saturday's tickets will give access for both games on the 10th.

NJ Transit, like the MTA, is shutting down after 12pm tomorrow. Gov. Christie also announced plans to lower reservoir levels along the Passaic River ahead of the hurricane to reduce potential flooding. New York State has likewise lowered its reservoir levels along the Delaware River system.

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