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How to Prepare for a Hurricane in the U.S. Northeast

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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hurricane-ireneIt’s not that the central and northern portions of the east coast of North America never see hurricanes. It’s just that we in the Northeast don’t see them that often. The last one was in 1999, and the last bad one was in 1938, a deadly one that caused damage  that can still be seen in the form of missing barrier islands and reshaped coastlines.

That means many of us on the Eastern seaboard are wildly unprepared for the main threats of a hurricane: high winds, torrential rains and / or a storm surge from the sea. And Hurricane Irene, forecast to be at least a Category 2 storm and already unusually large, is now lumbering toward us, gathering strength from warm ocean waters, at 21 kilometers per hour.

Hurricanes are powerful tropical cyclones, capable at their worst of winds in excess of 250 kilometers per hour and a storm surge of more than five meters. At Category 2 Irene would only boast winds less than 110 kph and a storm surge of roughly 2 meters—still more than enough to swamp crowded coastlines (as you can see with this NOAA overlay map).

So how to survive such a storm? Here are some tips from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and my own local government: make sure drains and gutters are clear, put together a disaster supply kit (batteries and water are key) and secure loose objects likely to fly around in heavy wind like, I don’t know, lawn furniture. FEMA even has flood maps for many localities, and New York City has prepared its own version [pdf].

There’s a lot of us living in the areas likely to be inundated (including myself, since I reside in Gowanus, a low-lying patch of ground around a canal that is one of the nation’s newest Superfund sites). It could be worse. We could be New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, which has to pump water out of the subways—even on days when it isn’t raining.

Of course, all this hoopla may not matter. Irene could weaken or get pushed out to sea. But—as with climate change—it’s better to be safe than sorry. Or, take a lesson from the Boy Scouts: be prepared.

Images: Courtesy of NASA and NOAA

David Biello About the Author: David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @dbiello.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. cccampbell38 6:38 pm 08/26/2011

    When we lived on eastern Long Island I swore that, were a big one to come, my plan would be to pack up two days early and go to Ohio, then come back and dig out. We stayed put for Agnes, Gloria, and Bob. No big problems but scary. Some of the nor’easters in the late fall were even worse since instead of a few hours they lasted two days or so with nearly as much wind. But for Irene I think that I might just head about 200 miles west—except now I live in Chicago and there is absolutely no point in going to Iowa.

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  2. 2. Sanpinn 7:42 pm 09/9/2011

    Mr. Biello – with all due respect; since it states that you are the “Associate Editor for Environment & Energy at Scientific American” … : When I read the headline for your article, “How To Prepare For A Hurricane in the U.S.Northeast”, I really expected more comprehensive information besides “batteries & water” and “securing loose objects.” And, your bit about, “objects likely to fly around in heavy wind,like, I don’t know, lawn furniture..”??!!! You don’t know??! Forgive me, but when an author is giving advice about preparedness; and within that article actually states “I don’t know” – my first thought is, why did this individual attempt to take on the task of writing an article on a subject that he hasn’t even done his homework for? I grew up in southeast Florida, and not only experienced a plethora of hurricanes, was present when Hurricane Donna, reported to have been one of the five worst hurricanes in history, traveled right over our house. So, I know of what I speak from personal experience. I am writing this after Irene, so shan’t offer preparedness advice. It would behoove you to do your homework next time prior to offering info about such a serious event.

    About the Author: David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American.

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