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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 06/ 3/2010

Landstrike: New York's horrible hurricane scenario

By Jason Samenow

* Risk of strong p.m. storms: Full Forecast *

I recently read local author Ken Bass's book Landstrike, a fictional take on the real and potentially disastrous scenario in which a major hurricane makes a direct hit on the Big Apple. The book is well-written, action-packed and captivating. With Hurricane Preparedness Week upon us, Landstrike provides an important cautionary tale about New York City's likely vulnerability to hurricanes, which applies (to varying degrees) to other highly populated, developed locations along the East Coast. I invited Ken to blog about his book and provide an excerpt, which he does below. - Jason, CWG

kenbass.jpg
Local author Kenneth Bass.

Like many Capital Weather Gang readers, I'm a self-professed weather geek. When I retired from law practice a few years ago, I set out to write an account of Hurricane Hugo, the 1989 category 4 storm that struck Charleston, S.C. as it left a long swath of destruction from the Caribbean to Canada. After completing much of the research, however, Hurricane Katrina emerged in the Gulf of Mexico, devastating New Orleans and Mississippi. As I watched hours of television coverage in morbid fascination and horror, I wondered who would want to read about Hugo after something as overwhelming as Katrina.

But I had all this research, and started seeing references to the catastrophic potential of a major hurricane striking New York City. I read a book about the Great Hurricane of 1938, which struck eastern Long Island and New England, killing more than 700 people, destroying more than 50,000 buildings and knocking down more than a quarter BILLION trees.

Keep reading for more about Landstrike, and an excerpt from the book...

I found it easy to imagine what a hurricane like Hugo, or the '38 storm, would do if it hit New York City directly. Although I had never intended to write fiction, I soon found myself sketching out a story. Some friends encouraged me, and before long I was writing what became Landstrike.

My goal for Landstrike was to make it as realistic as possible, while educating the reader about what a storm like this would be like. Most likely, a major storm threatening New York would be moving fast--thus reducing warning time (the 1938 hurricane was moving faster than 50 mph when it came ashore on Long Island). Also, because hurricanes approaching the Atlantic coast tend to curve northward, their landfall is much more difficult to predict than a storm approaching the Gulf Coast. As a result, New Yorkers would get relatively little warning time, a fact highlighted in the book.

It's also impossible to evacuate New York City--the government's policy for a hurricane there is to "shelter-in-place." It's not a bad strategy, but hurricanes are such a rare and unexpected event there that many citizens would not take warnings seriously until too late, would not have a plan, and would not know what to do, or where to go.

Landstrike.jpg
Cover image for Landstrike, by Kenneth Bass.

A category four hurricane going up the Hudson River could generate a storm surge of up to 25 feet, causing widespread flooding, while devastating the New York's industrial infrastructure. Wind from such a storm, amplified at the upper levels of the city's skyscrapers, would blow out tens of thousands of windows, destroying the lavish interiors of many landmark buildings. Millions of trees would be blown down. New York and its surrounding communities would be isolated for days, without power for weeks. The storm's aftermath would generate a humanitarian crisis with the need to supply 25 million people with food and water.

I won't give away the story, but any avid follower of hurricanes will be hard-pressed to put the book down once the eye of fictional hurricane Nicole crosses Sandy Hook, N.J. and enters the lower Hudson River. I also hope that life doesn't imitate fiction--when I started writing, in 2005, the year 2010 seemed far away, so I used the official hurricane names for this hurricane season, as well as tides, moon phases and other data. Many forecasters are calling for an active season. If we get to Nicole this year, and it's September, I'd advise staying away from New York for a few days!

Landstrike is available from Amazon.com (including for Kindle readers), BN.com, Xlibris.com, and other online book sellers.

Excerpt from Landstrike:

Just east of Coney Island, Nicole assaulted Rockaway Point, a sliver of land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean to form the outer barrier of Jamaica Bay, a vast marshland and tidal estuary fronting the sprawling grounds of John F. Kennedy Airport in Southern Queens. It was now 4:20 p.m., and in less than a minute and a half, the twenty-four-foot storm surge inundated the entire Rockaway Peninsula, lying less than ten feet above sea level, quickly drowning two foolhardy souls who had stayed there to watch the storm. In a matter of minutes, Nicole devastated thousands of homes in quaint little neighborhoods with charming names like Breezy Point, Neponsit, Belle Harbor, Rockaway Park, Seaside, Hammel, Arverne, and Edgemere. The storm surge rushed over the Marine Parkway Bridge linking Rockaway Point with Brooklyn, collapsing it and washing it away. Farther down the peninsula, the raging storm stripped the roadway off the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge into Queens.

Jamaica Bay, swollen with storm surge streaming across Rockaway Peninsula, soon overflowed into eastern Brooklyn and southern Queens, rapidly filling Kennedy Airport with seawater. Inside the main ring of terminals at Kennedy, a skeleton crew of workers lost their battle against the rapidly rising water as it coursed through ticket counters, baggage claims, waiting areas, departure lounges, food courts, and security checkpoints, coating everything with sticky brown marsh mud and instantly destroying hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment. Debris from the devastated homes and businesses on Rockaway Peninsula, swirling in the floodwaters, shattered windows, opening JFK's terminals to Nicole's roaring winds. A large section of the North Channel Bridge on Bay Boulevard--the main road from Queens into Rockaway Peninsula--broke loose, ramming into the Delta Airlines terminal and wrecking an entire concourse.

The main runways began to buckle, huge slabs of concrete coming loose as the water scoured the earth from underneath. The elevated roadway running in a circle past the various neo-modern terminals collapsed. Thousands of cars left in the various parking lots and garages by travelers earlier in the week floated off. At the International Arrivals Building, on the south side of the airport, wind tore off two hundred feet of roof and hurled it into the water. Rain poured into the upper level, soaking the few pieces of equipment saved from the flood below.

By Jason Samenow  | June 3, 2010; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Books, Tropical Weather  
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Comments

I've read the book and recommend it highly. I too will not give away the story, other than to say it's not SciFi, but a realistic, highly plausible scenario that needs to be taken seriously by local and national officialdom.

Unfortunately, even after the experience of New Orleans and Katrina, I'm not optimistic that preparation to deal with the what-if will recieve the necessary level of attention and action - until it's too late, of course.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | June 3, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

What are the actual probabilities that a hurricane can make it increasingly further and further north. I know little about the conditions that are required for a hurricane (warm water, I assume), but realistically, what are the chances that hurricanes (or even a significant tropical storm, which I assume could be fairly damaging as well) will form in the mid-to-north Atlantic?

Posted by: grimesman | June 3, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

From http://www.hcfcd.org/tropicalweather/downloads/Hurricanes_and_Storm_Surge.pdf

"Rates of rise up to one foot per 15 minutes were noted in the upper reaches of Trinity Bay as the eye of Hurricane Ike made landfall."

Posted by: eric654 | June 3, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Years ago I saw a poster in the NYC subway about that historic hurricane and the resulting flooding--I never forgot the possibility that one could move that far up the coast quite easily. I would not want to be in NYC when it does.

Posted by: 1shot | June 3, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I honestly think this danger is way overstated...the conditions for a hurricane of that magnitude to make a landfall over New York City would have to be pretty specific. If the storm, as the author posits, were to ride up the East Coast, it seems more than likely that it would become significantly weaker...big storms need warm water to stay strong, not land. Riding up the coast like that, it seems to me, would cause some significant weakening of the storm. Moreover, for storms to become truly large, water temperature really does need to be in the mid-80s, and except in unusual circumstances, the water is just too often not that warm off the northeast coast. The danger of a major hurricane striking the southeast or gulf coast cannot be overstated. But I think, when deciding where to send limited resources, we can move the northeast - especially an area as protected as New York City - a little further down the list.

Posted by: abainenglish | June 3, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

@grimesman

Hurricanes can and do hit New York and New England -- they form in tropical waters to the south and then head northward. Typically, they're not as strong as the storms that impact the Southeast and Gulf Coast -- because they interact with cold water -- but a Cat 3 storm hit the New York area in 1938. If a storm is moving fast enough as it heads from warm tropical water to the south into the colder waters along the Northeast coast -- it may not have time to weaken.

@abainenglish

Check out this link, and I'll bet you change your mind: http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/hurricane_future.html ... Bottom line-- it's a virtual certainty a hurricane will hit NYC/Long Island in the next 50 years and a very high chance a major one will.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | June 3, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Former National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield has said that it's "not a matter of if, but when" a major hurricane will strike New York City.
It could just as well be another major metropolitan area on the east coast--Norfolk, Baltimore, Philly, even Boston. All are vulnerable and poorly prepared, although NYC is probably uniquely vulnerable because hundreds of thousands of residents live in low-lying areas subject to storm surge.
As Jason's link shows, the risk in any given year is relatively low, but the cumulative risk over a longer period of time is overwhelming.

Posted by: xcurmudgeon | June 3, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Realistically, NYC should be zone 9, not 10. For the storm surge on the RHS of the storm, the storm would have to go left of NYC, or zone 9. Using Monmouth county NJ in the website, I see there is virtually no chance of a major hurricane hitting NJ and likewise NYC. Philly (and PA) is not the database since it is inland and the odds are essentially zero. Norfolk, Baltimore and Boston are all protected to some extent since a hurricane can't hit them directly.

The higher odds are south facing cities like Providence RI.

Posted by: eric654 | June 4, 2010 6:22 AM | Report abuse

Looks like Providence put up a storm surge barrier in 1966. This paper talks about the 1938 storm and very briefly mentions that a more leftward track would result in a much more serious situation on LI and in NYC.

http://www.rms.com/Publications/1938_Great_New_England_Hurricane.pdf

Posted by: eric654 | June 4, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like a fascinating read. Like in New Orleans the existing infrastructure would be important in order to know how extensive the death and destruction would be. Katrina came and left on Aug. 29th and the shoddily built and maintained levees failed on Aug. 30th causing most of the deaths and damage.

Also I doubt NY would shut down their airports, Amtrak, and Greyhound a day prior to the evacuation and 2 days prior to the storm as they did in New Orleans.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections in Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

Posted by: patriotpaul | June 4, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

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